The John Butler Trio

Record review

ACL Fest Record Reviews

The John Butler Trio

Sunrise Over Sea (Jarrah)

The John Butler Trio

What You Want EP (Lava)

A sensation at home in Australia where he's both critically acclaimed and a multiplatinum seller, John Butler now has his sights on the U.S. With roots-oriented artists from Down Under like Kasey Chambers, Paul Kelly, and the Waifs having some degree of success Stateside, it makes sense Butler would bring his folk/blues/soul hybrid here as well. The difference is that his music – as evidenced by Sunrise Over Sea, still available only as an import, and a new, domestic EP – seems a great deal less inspired and original than anything the aforementioned Aussies have brought to the table. It's true that Butler's talent on slide guitar and lap steel is top-notch, and his band is in the pocket laying down funk and rock grooves with ease. But there's very little originality in this sound. Listening to Sunrise Over Sea, names like Chris Whitley, Ben Harper, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Danny Barnes, and Alejandro Escovedo will pop into your head as Butler plays slow gritty blues, creates majestic soundscapes, and matches hip-hop to back-porch folk. It's his songwriting that's lagging behind. At five songs, the What You Want EP is more focused yet ruined by "Betterman," a 12-minute live workout that leans toward Zeppelin-esque excess, and a totally unnecessary acoustic cover of the Beatles' "Across the Universe." There are a couple of bright moments. "What You Want," found on both discs, is filled with dark shadows and a soaring string section, while the fingerpicking on "Treat Yo Mama" is a prime example of his considerable guitar talents. Overall, unfortunately, there's more flash than substance. While supposedly a dynamic live performer, Butler hasn't yet captured that excitement on disc. (Friday, 4:30pm, Capital Metro stage)

(Both) **   

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