The John Butler Trio’s sixth studio album comes sixteen years after their debut release and five years after original drummer and Butler’s brother-in-law Nicky Bomba returned to the group (having joined in time to record their last record ‘April Uprising’). This would prove to be Bomba’s last opportunity to contribute on record with JBT as he already left the group prior to the album’s completion.
‘Flesh & Blood’ fits very easily alongside the trios previous output and does not throw up any major surprises. There are the slow, soft ballads ‘Spring to come’, ‘Young and Wild’ and ‘Wings Are Wide’, a touching song about Butler’s grandmother passing away and meeting her man again after death. There are also those slower rootsy tracks like ‘Cold Wind’ and ‘Bullet Girl’ that add some intensity, the last of which is also the strongest on the album, delivering a passion that is lacking on many of the album’s other slower tracks. We also see some blues creep into a couple of the album’s tracks, ‘Livin’ In The City’ is ballsy with a strong riff to keep it kicking along while ‘Blame It On Me’ will certainly be a cracking live track with its easy-going roots sound and a lengthy breakdown in the middle.
Of course since their third album ‘Sunrise Over Sea’, the John Butler Trio has become increasingly synonymous with its singles and this album’s lead single ‘Only One’ has the chorus and beat to get stuck in your head, already becoming a strong radio staple. ‘Devil Woman’ is the other track that stands out as single material, delivering an unrelenting burst of energy and an infectious chorus. That however is probably where the obvious singles stop. While it’s certainly not pitiful, it is a long way from the four standout singles on April Uprising and Grand National (six of which made the ARIA charts).
‘Flesh & Blood’ is certainly not a disappointing album and adds more tracks to the already impressive catalogue Butler wields at their live shows. In the studio though many of the tracks fail to pop, resulting in an album that functions well as background music but often fails to tap into the raw nerves that have been exposed through the group’s previous efforts. The one exception to this is ‘How You Sleep At Night’, an unwavering condemnation of this government’s indifference to many of Butler’s pet causes
There is an honesty to the lyrics on ‘Flesh & Blood’ which do not hide behind the bombast heard on ‘April Uprising’. This is refreshing but the sameness of the musical approach has resulted in a bland studio sound on this album. Nevertheless, it’s still worth buying this album, it’s still worth memorising many of the songs but most of all, as always it’s still worth catching the trio live to hear these tracks at their best.