Sunrise Over Sea
REVIEW BY: Brian Birnbaum
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 09/05/2006
Sunrise Over Sea is the second best record to ever come out of Australia. So what, you say? Well, remember that bands like AC/DC and Jet have come from that country/continent as well. And just in case your focus hasn’t been directed upon the land down under lately, there is a plethora of talent that has arisen over the past several years, which happens to include the John Butler Trio.
John Butler is a stoner-looking guitarist as well as the dominant creative force of the band. The players he recruits for his rhythm section are talented, but they act mostly as session players who also tour with Butler.
He has created a sound that perfectly combines bluegrass, alternative, pop rock, blues, and a tiny bit of country and intertwined it with a jam band formula. Butler’s songwriting skills are up there with the best of them. His songs are often complicated (utilizing the 12-string guitar on some), yet they retain an air of melody that many bands can’t accomplish. But as good as the songs are, what strikes the listener upon first listen is the playing. One look at Butler, with the crazy hair and stoner look, and you’re wonder if he's for real - well, yes, yes he is. I do not overstate when I say that he may be the most underrated guitarist out there right now. And not only is he a great guitarist, but he’s got a hell of a voice that gels with the music seamlessly.
The album kicks off with “Treat Yo Mama,” arguably one of the better tracks on the album (which says a lot), and then quickly hits its high point on track two with “Peaches & Cream.” English and Australian words don’t describe how beautiful this song is. It is one of those musically euphoric experiences that you only get with certain songs that come along maybe once a year.
This is an album chock full of highlights. Behind “Peaches & Cream,” three favorites are “Betterman,” “Zebra,” and “Sometimes.” “Zebra” has a pretty cool concept wherein Butler sings about his black and white stripes, the different aspects of his character. “Sometimes” rounds off the album with a Zeppelinesque soft-to-loud number; however, it actually dares to be original, with more incredible acoustic and electric guitar work to boot. The acoustic “Betterman” is just the straight-up catchiest song on the album.
Every track on this record offers some form of allure. Aside from the fact that this means that there is no filler, it also allows the listener to connect with every song. Whether it be Butler’s vocals or his guitar work, every tune has something that makes it extraordinary. And when one song may not seem as catchy as the rest, Butler will throw something at the listener that catches them dead in their tracks, eyes wide like a deer in healights.
On “Seeing Angels,” for example, the lyrics win the day: “Still see through you / always will be with you / can you stand to see my vulnerability / For I am frightened / Shed so much I clung onto / The only things I have left is this guitar and you.” Here, Butler sings that his daughter is all he has and questions whether or not his daughter will be able to understand his sensitivities. This is about what you can expect from the guy in terms of lyrical quality, a method to make the listner connect with a songwriter's honest emotions.
I wish bands like this became more of a mainstream force in America. These are the kind of bands that need to be paving the way for rock music, not the faux-original "screamo" bands that pass themselves off as original but sound like horrible Blink-182 ripoffs - and if you have to sound like Blink-182, just hang up your instruments. But one listen to Sunrise Over Sea and the optimism for modern music returns; you hear the influences, but it's nothing you’ve ever heard before.
The only reason this isn’t receiving the highest rating is the mediocre “Damned To Hell.” Butler attempts here to make a straight folk song and it just doesn’t measure up to the rest of the crowd. Not a bad song, but enough to silence any acknowledgements as to this being a classic, must-own album.
I don’t rate this album highly because I really want you to hear this album. I rate it highly because you need to hear this album.