Sunrise Over Sea – The John Butler Trio

2004 – Jarrah

Folk/ Rock


From the opening slide guitar strains of Treat Yo Mama one can hear that The John Butler Trio’s third studio album (first to be released in the United States) is going to offer the listener something outside of the mainstream. It’s raw and powerful, but well considered and approachable with a solid social conscience and large degree of skill. Butler’s guitar abilites are something to be reckoned with and his backing band (consisting of Shannon Birchall plucking at the double bass and Nicky Bomba on drums) provide some of the funkiest roots grooves that can ever be heard.

What makes this music so intersting, however, is not merely Butler’s ridiculously skillfull playing, but also the fact that he does not gloat about it. Yes, he takes a solo when it suits him and plays riffs most humans wouldn’t even bother to attempt, but he does not play at breakneck speeds or use technical tricks just to show off the fact that he can. The raging tempest of Mist, for example, rivals anything that the likes of Metallica or Slash have ever played, but no note or tempo change is there for any reason other than the fact that it sounds right. Butler just puts his money where his humble mouth is and doesn’t care if you know that he plays like a man who sold his soul to the devil, and that to me is a truly pleasing thing to hear in music today.

Lyrically too, Sunrise Over Sea has a certain air of humbleness about it as Butler eschews the standard topics of heartbreak and general whinyness in favour of the uplifiting ode to wife and child of Peaches And Cream and the understated beauty of Seeing Angels. It is also nice to hear somewith with such an obvious social conscience make their voice heard over the top of the mindless pop music that floods the market. His protest tracks, however, don’t fall into the same tired ‘save the world’ and ‘give peace a chance’ cliches common to so many folk singers trying to their bit, but rather Butler shows that he knows what he’s talking about by providing specific examples such as in the haunting tale of Comapny Sin, and which he speaks out against the mining of the sacred lands of the Australian Aboriginal People, or the shout outs to friends across the country protesting against uranium mines in Treat Yo Mama.

While all these things serve to make the record one of the finer pieces of roots/folk music to come out of Australia, the album does have its downsides, however. Many of the tracks run on for a bit too long and some of the melodies become a bit repeptive after a little while. This doesn’t seem to affect the rockier numbers, but the slow songs (What You Want, Bound To Ramble) do drag a bit more than was likely intended. Also, in some of the cuts ( once again usually the slower ones) Butler’s musical abilites get a bit too big for his boots and he crowds the music somewhat with unwarranted string lines or extra vocal harmonies. Really I think that if your going to play roots music this rootsy it would be worthwhile to stick to your roots and keep to the bare bones of what you need. Damned To Hell is a pretty good example of the power that comes with sticking to the barest of essentials in this kind of music, and the rambling epic of Sometimes is a good example of why it is dangerous to move too far away from this.

All in all, however, I’d have to say that The John Butler Trio’s Sunrise Over Sea is one of the highlights of folk music, and not just in Australia. There’s just so much skill and raw funk going through these tracks that it’s hard to deny their greatness. It really is a must have for those who are intested in music unique to Australia, and I recommend it highly just to anyone who wants to get down and listen to some really good folk-rock.



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