Taken from MetroWest Daily News (Nov 15, 2018)
Music: John Butler brings 'Home' to Boston
by Jay N. Miller, For The Patriot Ledger
John Butler. Kane Hibberd photo
John Butler's latest album, "Home," released on September 28, has been hailed as his most personal collection yet, but that doesn't mean he's turned away from the social and ecological issues that permeated his previous work. And the extraordinarily dynamic musical foundation of Butler's music is still impossible to resist.
The John Butler trio headlines The Orpheum Theater in Boston on Wednesday night in support of "Home," his first album since 2014's "Flesh and Blood." The album has already hit the number two slot on the American Folk charts, No. 5 on Alternative Albums, and No. 8 on Rock Albums. Singles like "Just Call," "Tell Me Why," "Wade in the Water," and the title cut all focus on personal relationships, finding connection in a difficult world. Butler's music has always included such songs of course, and he has a knack for getting to the essence of a matter, but in the past he's also been a fervent supporter of environmental issues, as well as inclusion and equality.
"It's not that I've lost my social conscience or lost interest in political matters, but I just feel that I've already said a lot of what I have to say," said Butler, from the current tour's first stop, in Washington, D.C. earlier this week. "I had a sense that I was beginning to repeat myself, like we all are. And I also believe that the world-without is determined by the world-within. What we are seeing in world politics is nothing new. It's been within us, and it's just 'showing ugly' now.
"There's a saying: In the brightest light, even the shallows get brighter, but you also see the edges of shadows and contrast really crystallizes into clear black and white," Butler noted. "That's a bit of what we're seeing now, but it's being fueled in part by people's vulnerabilities and fears being pried open. Those things have always been there, but now they're out in the open. Our job, and the job of anybody who wants to live in a civil and just society, is to make sure we're fueling positivity and inclusivity. But there's a point in human evolution where you need to view the atrocities of the past and learn from them.
"We're talking a lot this week about Armistice Day, which is called Veterans Day in the States," Butler added. "We are all very much aware of how bad things were in the past, yet especially in Europe right now we see pre-war attitudes filling in, and bringing unrest and divide. I think it's a big problem that all of our World War II people are dying off, so there aren't enough of us left who remember how bad it was and how far we've come. So right now I feel it is important to promote positivity, to try to create some good, inside and outside of ourselves. Everybody has a way of doing it, what they feel needs to be done, but this music is my way."
Longtime fans know the outlines of Butler's story. Born in California to an Australian father and American mother, he moved to Australia with his dad after his parents divorced in 1986. Attending Curtin University in Perth, his musical life began to take precedence and he dropped out to perform full time. Returning to California in '94, he first played in a rock band called Vitamin with his brother Jim. Eventually he developed his own solo band and the guitar virtuosity he'd learned while, among other things, busking on the streets back home in Australia, led to his own band having a distinctive sound. Part rock, part traditional Celtic, and part indigenous Australian rhythms, Butler's music is infectious and compelling, yet unique and with his impassioned vocals and lyrical gifts, it makes for formidable music.
Circling back to musical matters, the new single "Just Call" is a simple song about the need for communication with your loved ones, over a percolating rhythm. It also has a video that features Butler climbing a tall tree over a rushing river, a stuntman type of visual that ends with him dropping into the current. But it seems the song's core is a recycled riff, from the sessions for his 2004 album, "Sunrise over Sea."
"I always have some riffs I can't finish," said Butler. "Some stick with you. If it's not a good idea, you tend to put them aside and move on, but that one stayed with me. When it does happen like that, you begin to think maybe going back to something you can't get out of your head is a good idea."
Butler admits his music is constantly evolving.
"It is always changing, and I feel I have to serve the song," he said. "However it wants to go is what works, not necessarily what I want it to be. What I hear in my head tends to have a lot of bass, and be a bit hip-hop influenced, yet with Celtic finger-style guitar. It's a strange kind of mix."
Butler, 43, is married to singer/songwriter Danielle Caruana (who performs as Mama Kin), and the couple have two kids, daughter Banjo and son Jahli. We wondered if his family, and his growing children influenced this turn towards more personal subjects.
"Yes and no," said Butler. "I'm still very much concerned with political issues. We just ran a full page ad in the state paper at home to stop fracking. More and more of what we see in the world is also happening to us, as parents. I firmly believe, you cannot hurt someone without hurting yourself. When we trash the environment, we trash ourselves. A lot of these issues are a lot more interesting to talk about if you can look at it from that perspective."
Butler's career has seen him tour the United States many times over the years, from the early 2000s on, and he's hopeful based on what he's seen of the people.
"On our first tour of the States, we were about halfway through it when 9-11 happened," he pointed out. "We toured throughout the Bush Era and the Iraq War, and through all of that turmoil what we experienced, overwhelmingly, was a great generosity from the American people. The impression that stuck with us was how friendly and encouraging people are, and how similar we all are. We all want to have a good time, we all want to live not in fear, to have clean air and water. The only ones not like that are, literally, sociopaths. But I have great faith in what this country is capable of achieving. It's true we've never seen so much division. But I can look out my hotel window here and see the Martin Luther King Jr. monument, and I know those people faced much more difficult times, and still succeeded in bringing people together. We can do it too."