John Butler Trio+ | St. Paul & The Broken Bones

Date
Saturday, August 17, 2019
Time/Doors
Gates 5 | Show 6:30
Facebook Event
Main Image

Description

John Butler Trio+

Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube | Spotify

The contradictions in John Butler are evident, and, despite his magnificently successful career (with number one albums in Australia and sell-out tours) his is a troubled soul. One of the most successful recording artists Australia has ever produced and a musician whose reputation has begun to rock the waters of both Europe and America, Butler is nevertheless a man on the edge. Where will he go next? Up or down? Despite the tensions within the man and his music the new album makes his future trajectory abundantly clear.

An independent role model, founder of Australia’s Jarrah Records, family man and proud skateboard aficionado, JB, in spite of his matey public persona, remains an enigma. He is from everywhere and nowhere, an Australian/American, Everyman/Nowhere Man, and his music mixes rootedness and rootlessness, pain and celebration in a way that is utterly beguiling. He is the consummate rebel-refugee whose songs chart disenchantment with the corporate world and show a yearning for truth along with an ongoing struggle for a sense of locus. The songs’ off-centre grooves have always been their charm, and yet now there is a sense, in the new album at least, of resolution and peace after years of being against the world and what it offered. Maybe the man on the brink will not jump after all?

The Past
Born in California and of mixed Australian, Greek and Bulgarian ancestry, Butler began his musical career in classic if tentative style. The narrative arc is well-known Down Under. An art-school dropout, he was ‘discovered’ busking in 1996, bystanders marvelling at ‘the sweat flying off his brow’ and ‘the holy madness in his eyes’. The tape of these early compositional soundscapes Searching for Heritage gave an inkling of where Butler was going, reaching as it did both forwards and backwards in time, conversant with all genres and yet somehow defining its own. The sound had, and still has, elements of folk, funk, reggae and rock all drizzled through the 90s Seattle sensibility. Behind all that there was a wistful Celtic ambience surreally counterpointed by a Jamaican roots/rudeboy vibe. What could have been a mess somehow made perfect sense, with the bluegrass fingerpicking, hip hop beats and psychedelic wig-outs proving not uneasy bedfellows but perfect complements.

Now
On Flesh & Blood it goes even further, yet with a restraint that bespeaks a deepening maturity. There are dirty Stevie Wonder-style boogies, ghostly refrains that could come from Simon and Garfunkel, sonic poltergeists which seem, at times, to resemble lost rock classics. In the hands of a lesser man this would be mere thievery dressed up as ‘eclecticism’. But Butler is a maestro - he takes his influences and transcends them. He creates a sound that is as ancient as aboriginal bone-art and yet as modern as your Twitter feed. He has been hailed as one of the world’s greatest guitarists, a musician’s musician, one whose sound offers not three chords and the truth but a thousand. His prestidigitation is astounding. An old song like “Ocean,” for example, has chalked up 30 million Youtube hits, and not just with guitar freaks studying his technique. The new album has songs that are less expansive and more ‘reined in’, but the playing is all the more impressive for being more tightly corralled. Less sometimes really is more.

Flesh & Blood may be his best yet. In parts it is simply overwhelming. The album has captured that elusive thing: soul. Butler has spoken in interviews of his songs being like ‘wild horses, wild beasts’ and you can see what he means. Songs, he says, come from the ‘ether’, from a savage hinterland: they must be caught without breaking their spirit. A ‘song-capturer’, Butler’s job has been not to tame those horses but to present their wildness. His myth of composition evokes the timeless expanse of both the Aussie Outback and the American West, and he and his fellow band members have been at pains to honour the songs as independent things that belong to no one, least of all themselves.

Arising from a series of agenda-free jams in Butler’s studio ‘The Compound’ in Fremantle, (Australia) the album took a mere 20 days to record and, though beautifully structured in sonic terms, there is a rawness and honesty to the album that reflects the brevity of its laying down. The songs have a wide-open, semi-improvised feel. The crisp and beautifully spare production of Jan Skubiszewski accentuates the sense of limitless space: the drums (courtesy of the aptly named Nicky Bomba) kick with dub explosions, while the bass (‘Lord’ Byron Luiters) goes on inspired transient walkabouts. Butler’s voice, free of the ‘anger’ that has dogged him for so long, now soars with both melancholy and plangent purity. “Wings are Wide” evokes rainforests: it is drenched in dizzying guitar loops in which the listener is enmeshed and lifted timelessly elsewhere. “Spring to Come” could be a classic, Butler’s acrylic fingernails plucking more of their extraordinary patterns. “Blame it on Me” is a cocky peacock-strut juxtaposed with dark references to apocalyptic ‘heavy times’. “Young and Wild” has the simple beauty of a song - a down home-country feel offset by the gorgeous shadowing of female vocalist Ainslie Wills. “How You Sleep at Night” is a hypnotically anthemic piece featuring the ferocious drumming of new man Grant Gerathy; Bomba having jumped ship (albeit amicably) to front his own Melbourne Ska Orchestra. The synth-anchored “You’re Free” sounds like its title: it is as if the composer, haunted by righteous ire, has taken flight, escaping earthly confines but not flying too close to the sun. New single “Only One” shows a new maturity in pop craftsmanship. The quiet/loud dynamic is beautifully exploited yet again. A simple three note refrain and rolling storm-cloud drums establishes a minor key mood: a place of ‘castles built out of sand’ and ‘something haunting’ the protagonist. But then the chorus erupts with steel drum euphoria transporting the listener to what sounds like Africa — a third world of ecstatic being. That is the JB trick par excellence: the shift from fireside ballad to communal dance, from private to public, from doubt to assertion.

Home Again
With Flesh & Blood, Butler has come full circle. Searching for Heritage led ultimately to April Uprising, an album that delved into Butler’s family history, one in which ethnic Bulgarians (Butler’s kin) rose up in 1876 against the tyrannical Ottoman Empire that had suppressed them. John’s own name derives from his paternal grandfather, a forestry worker who died fighting a bushfire in Nannup, Oz. From these historical titbits we glean some inkling of the artist. He is a man fighting for justice, a man fighting fires — those of love gone bad, of corporate greed, or simply of his own angry soul. As Butler has confessed in a recent interview, “I thought my anger was my strongest asset and that’s what made me powerful, but it was actually my weakest link. My vulnerability, my honesty and patience and trust are my strongest attributes.” The album bears this out. As Butler has matured the anger has been sublimated in poetry, and his voice, on the tender love songs especially, has become his outstanding instrument.

Flesh & Blood is a testament to his talent, and to a man who has finally found himself. On some songs he sounds simply reborn. “I wanted the songs to be a lot more guttural and fleshier,” says a newly humble JB. “I wanted to smell it and feel it a bit more. And I wanted my voice, now and always, to be more convincing.” If it’s authenticity he was seeking he has surely found it.

If he has been a ‘man on the edge’ he is certainly not going to jump and end it all. He now has the wisdom and the courage to take a step back - and enjoy the view.

John Butler is no pie-in-the-sky hippy. He has dirt beneath his feet: red dirt. He is well-known Down Under for his environmental and political commitment. His white Rasta look once suggested a teleported Bob Marley - but that has gone. The more recent barbered image makes him look like a handsome American from the Civil War era. His stare is hypnotic. Who will draw first, you or him? He is not, however, all gun and no trousers. He has put his money where his mouth is, fronting a campaign that helped stop a vast gas plant from despoiling the natural beauty of the Kimberley area in NW Australia. He has also set up a charitable trust that has enabled many aspiring artists to find an outlet. He is a man who cares about the world he is in and one who has tried, in his own way, to set in right.

YouTube Video
Vimeo

St. Paul & The Broken Bones

Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube | Spotify

Blood is thicker than water, and it can leave scars. But like it or not, those in our bloodlines are stuck with us—and us with them—for better or for worse. Paul Janeway understands this conundrum of heritage well. The singer of the Birmingham, Alabama–based rock and roll soul band St. Paul & The Broken Bones was born and raised in America’s Deep South, a place where social consciousness can still take a backseat to unsavory traditions and where a family’s expectations sometimes supersede all else. Despite the fierce familial love, he enjoyed and constantly gave back while growing up—especially to his father and grandfather—from an early age Janeway realized that the way he thought about the world was a little different from those around him, and he began to seek an outlet from which to share what was in his heart and on his mind. Blessed with a powerful voice, a magnetism for connecting with people, and a gift for making music, he traded in a career in ministry to start his own band.

“I’ve always been the artsy weirdo in the family,” Janeway says. “I’m liberal, a blue dot in a very red part of the world. When you’re from Alabama you have to go out of your way to make people understand that you think a little differently. But we’re an Alabama band—it’s who we are.”

St. Paul & The Broken Bones formed in 2012, releasing their debut album Half the City in 2014 and its follow up, 2016’s Sea of Noise, too much acclaim. Those strong efforts helped place them on the national scene, and the band worked hard to prove they were no mere retro-soul band—from touring the world relentlessly, including being selected to open for The Rolling Stones and headlining two nights at the Ryman Auditorium, to TV appearances including The Late Show with David Letterman, Jimmy Kimmel Live, Conan, Austin City Limits two appearances on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, one being the very first episode. Janeway’s fearless showmanship, thoughtful lyrics, and dedication to his performance soon became the band’s calling card, and paired with the inventive and skillful direction of co-band leader Jesse Phillips as well as a full eight-man roster comprised of some of the best young instrumentalists in the South, they soon became a must-see event. (In addition to Janeway on lead vocals and Phillips on bass and guitar, the lineup is rounded out by Browan Lollar (guitars), Andrew Lee (drums), Al Gamble (keyboards), Allen Branstetter (trumpet), Chad Fisher (trombone) and Amari Ansari (saxophone), who replaced Jason Mingledorff following the album’s recording) Over time, Janeway has learned the art of balancing expectations and how to reconcile his past with his future, just as his band have learned how to overcome their perception by pushing against its ceiling. In embracing those things he cannot change, he has forged ahead as an artist and as a man. And with his band’s new album, Young Sick Camellia, Janeway has created a space for St. Paul & The Broken Bones to rival any forward-thinking band making music today, based on a concept all-too familiar to him: family, and how we love them despite our differences.

Upon completing Sea of Noise, Janeway began working on its follow up immediately, with the idea in mind to write directly about his relationship with his father and grandfather. “I was dwelling on my family and the complexity to all the men’s relationships,” Janeway says. “My papaw was not a warm person, but he showed his affection through hard work. He and my father had a complicated relationship and didn’t communicate well. This record is about me growing up in a digital age, and my father and papaw growing up in their different times, and exploring the dynamics of those relationships.”

Originally envisioning the project as a trio of EP’s, each from the perspective of the three generations of Janeway men, he realized he had enough material in the first volume—written from his own vantage—to make a full-length record. Assigning himself the image of a camellia, the Alabama state flower, Janeway uses his lyrics as a conduit for interpersonal conversation and excision, in addition to pieces of an actual conversation with his grandfather he recorded months before his unexpected death. “I wanted to explore the dynamics and their views on life,” Janeway says. “It’s an extremely personal record—not that I haven’t written personal records before, but this is more in-depth and with a vulnerability that I was maybe scared to try. But you have to have that exposure. I think we’re in a much better place than we’ve ever been as a band. We weren’t totally confident with the ‘retro soul’ label that was thrust on us and we knew we had to explore more ground. Young Sick Camellia is the first record we’ve done that just felt right all the way through, like we’re doing us. Nothing was rushed and everything has intent.”

Janeway leaned more heavily than ever before on his band to help with the songwriting. In the past, he and Phillips served as a “two-headed monster” who ultimately called all the shots; this time around, however, the band was invited to add song ideas. “The record really flexes the muscle of this band,” Janeway says. “Musically, it’s a kaleidoscope of flavors and it covers a lot of ground.”

Furthering this notion, the band chose the hip-hop / modern R&B producer Jack Splash to record in Los Angeles, a choice that Janeway credits with taking the band outside of their comfort zone and establishing a connection to a new sound. Fusing the use of samples, fresh rhythms, and new instruments with Janeway’s specific interpersonal subject matter, Young Sick Camellia is sure to place St. Paul & The Broken Bones in a whole new sphere. From the opening space-opus of “Convex” to the snappy, buoyant charm of “Apollo” and the intensely personal bent of “LivWithoutU” and the album-ending “Bruised Fruit,” it’s clear that this represents a new chapter of the band. As Janeway howls the words “Blood is what I can’t escape” during the final number, the chills are affecting, reminding the listener of the place and circumstances from which the singer and the album come—especially considering the unexpected passing of a central character, one whose appearance is both heard and felt throughout.

“I recorded a conversation some months ago with my papaw, who was in his 80’s and had smoked everyday since he was nine,” Janeway says. “I made the decision to use that audio on the record, and then he got sick and passed away a few months later after we had finished the album. It felt like that’s why we did this; it’s just the way the world works, a beautiful thing. In my mind music lives forever, and that will always be there.”

Just as his family makes a grand imprint in the very DNA of Young Sick Camellia, Janeway and his band are set to have a lasting impact in today’s musical landscape. The album they have created, whether a standalone affair or eventually accompanied by successive parts of a trilogy, challenges the notions of what a soul outfit can be, and establishes their reputation as a band as likely to make you think as to dance. A darker, more cerebral affair, the album embraces a variety of sonic experiments and blurs boundary lines but its focus remains sharply on the titular frontman and his bold, intensely personal and brave examination of his own family tree and how it has shaped him.

“For now, this feels like our opus,” Janeway says. “But the story doesn’t feel finished, so with that, it has to continue. We’ve already got music for the next one. What I perceive this to be is different from anything anyone is doing. It’s so terrifying and so fun at the same time.”

Trombone Shorty’s new album opens with a dirge, but if you think the beloved bandleader, singer, songwriter and horn-blower born Troy Andrews came here to mourn, you got it all wrong. That bit of beautiful New Orleans soul—”Laveau Dirge No. 1,” named after one of the city’s most famous voodoo queens—shows off our host’s roots before Parking Lot Symphony branches out wildly, wonderfully, funkily across 12 diverse cuts. True to its title, this album contains multitudes of sound—from brass band blare and deep-groove funk, to bluesy beauty and hip-hop/pop swagger—and plenty of emotion all anchored, of course, by stellar playing and the idea that, even in the toughest of times, as Andrews says, “Music brings unity.”

As for why it’s taken Andrews so long to follow 2013’s Raphael Saadiq-produced Say That to Say This, the man simply says, “I didn’t realize so much time passed. Some artists don’t work until they put a record out but I never stopped going.” Truly. In the last four years, Andrews banked his fifth White House gig; backed Macklemore and Madonna at the Grammys; played on albums by She & Him, Zac Brown, Dierks Bentley, and Mark Ronson; opened tours for Daryl Hall & John Oates and Red Hot Chili Peppers; appeared in Foo Fighters’ Sonic Highways documentary series; voiced the iconic sound of the adult characters in The Peanuts Movie; inherited the esteemed annual fest-closing set at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival in the tradition of Crescent City greats like the Neville Brothers and Professor Longhair; and released Trombone Shorty, a children’s book about his life that was named a Caldecott Honor Book in 2016.

Adding to that legacy, his Blue Note Records debut Parking Lot Symphony finds Andrews teamed with Grammy-nominated producer Chris Seefried (Andra Day, Fitz and the Tantrums) and an unexpected array of cowriters and players including members of Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros, The Meters, Better Than Ezra, and Dumpstaphunk. Considering Andrews’ relentless schedule, it’s all the more surprising that this LP began with him in a room, all alone, back in New Orleans.

“I had two weeks at home so I went to the studio and set up the ‘playground,'” he recalls. “I had everything in a circle: tuba, trombone, trumpet, keyboard, Fender Rhodes, Wurly, B3 organ, guitar, bass, drums—and me buried in the middle.” He recorded an album’s worth of ideas and then, well, walked away for a year. Not because he was too busy, but because he wanted to hit the road and see how the music changed on him. When Andrews came back with a full band, the songs came to life.

Take the album’s two covers, a pair of NOLA deep cuts: there’s “Here Comes the Girls,” a 1970 Allen Toussaint song originally recorded by Ernie K-Doe that here (with Ivan Neville on piano) sounds bawdy and regal, like something from a current Bruno Mars album; and The Meters’ lovesick “It Ain’t No Use,” which swirls a vintage R&B vibe with resonant choir vocals and upbeat guitar from The Meters’ Leo Nocentelli himself to transport the listener to the center of the jumpingest jazz-soul concert hall that never was.

The story there is almost too good. The session band—guitarist Pete Murano, sax men Dan Oestreicher and BK Jackson, and drummer Joey Peebles with Dumpstaphunk’s Tony Hall in for Orleans Avenue bassist Mike Bass-Bailey—were in the studio to lay down “It Ain’t No Use.” Hall even had the vintage acoustic he bought from Nocentelli years ago, which was used on the original Meters session. On the way to the bathroom, Andrews saw Nocentelli coming out of a different tracking room: it was meant to be.

But that’s not unusual for a man raised in one of the Tremé’s most musical families. Andrews got his name when he picked up his instrument at four (“My parents pushed me toward trombone because they didn’t need another trumpet player,” he laughs). By eight, he led his own band in parades, halls and even bars: “They’d have to lock the door so the police couldn’t come in.” Promoters would try to hand money to his older cousins, but they’d kindly redirect them to the boy. In his teens, Andrews played shows abroad with the Neville Brothers. Fresh out of high school (New Orleans Center for Creative Arts) he joined Lenny Kravitz’ band.

Across that time, three Trombone Shorty albums and many collaborations since, Andrews nurtured a voracious appetite for all types of music—a phenomenon on fluid display with Parking Lot Symphony. On “Familiar,” co-written by Aloe Blacc, they practically mint a new genre (trap-funk?) while Andrews channels his inner R. Kelly to spit game at an old flame. Meanwhile, the instrumental “Tripped Out Slim” (the nickname of a family friend who recently passed) bends echoes of the Pink Panther theme into something fit for James Brown to strut to. And if you listen closely to “Where It At?,” written with Better Than Ezra’s Kevin Griffin, you may even hear a little Y2K pop. “I know it wasn’t cool to listen to *NSYNC or Britney Spears in high school,” says Andrews, “but those bass lines and melodies are funky.” They pair astonishingly well with all the Earth, Wind & Fire that bubbles beneath these songs.

It’s worth noting that Andrews’ vocals sound better than ever (he credits Seefried for that), because Parking Lot Symphony might be the man’s most heartfelt offering yet. The breezy title track, which Andrews wrote with Alex Ebert (Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros), is as much about walking the Tremé, being uplifted by the music that seems to seep from every surface, as it is about moving on from a broken heart. And the shuffling, bluesy “No Good Time” reminds us, with a world-weary smile, that “nobody never learned nothin’ from no good time.”

But Andrews is clear that this isn’t some kind of breakup record. “It’s a life record,” he says, “about prevailing no matter what type of roadblock is in front of you.” That message is clearest on “Dirty Water,” where over an easy groove, Andrews adopts a soft falsetto to address just about anyone going through it—personal, political, whatever. “There’s a lot of hope turning to doubt,” he coos. “I’ve got something to say to them / You don’t know what you’re talking about / When you believe in love, it all works out.” Amen. Now let the horns play us out.