Fans accustomed to John Butler Trio’s (JBT) organic, funky, and sometimes folky sound might find themselves a bit taken aback after listening to the Australian roots band’s newest album, Flesh and Blood. JBT’s previous albums have packed musical variety, ranging from sassy, upbeat songs like “Used to Get High” (Grand National), to instrumental delicacies such as “Ocean” (John Butler), all the way to potently emotional ballads like “Peaches and Cream” (Sunrise Over Sea). The trio, which formed in 1998, have mastered the art of diversity in their sound as they have evolved—however, this journey of steady versatility seems to have been interrupted.
Flesh and Blood, while in no way an ear-sore of an album, lacks the entertaining assortment of sound JBT is known for. The name of the album denotes a sense of raw simplicity; maybe this was what John and the crew were going for when recording, as songs like “Only One” and “Young and Wild” are extremely simple not only instrumentally, but also lyrically. There are certain moments while listening where one could simply read the name of the song in order to know the majority of the lyrics and general ‘point’ of the song. A lot of the tracks run into each other and lack the liveliness JBT is known for.
This being said, the album is still packed with John Butler’s buttery voice and simple but skillful instrumental accompaniment—there were only two main guitar solos throughout the 11 tracks. JBT is known for making passionate music, and this isn’t fully lost, as demonstrated through the provocative story lines of “Bullet Girl” and “Wings Are Wide.”
Given that it has taken the group four years to release a new album, the work obviously merits a listen. However, approach with no sort of high expectation: find the one or two tracks you connect with, and re-shelf Flesh and Blood behind JBT’s much more impressive compilations.