A new haircut, a new band, a new sound. On his fifth album April Uprising it feels like John Butler is looking for a fresh start. Joined by Nicky Bomba, a prominent member of Australia’s roots scene, on percussion and Byron Luthiers on bass there is a marked difference between the sound of Grand National and April Uprising. That’s not to say that there aren’t elements of his old sound there, because there certainly are, but it is also the closest thing to a rock album he has ever released
Like most of John Butler’s work, this album is highly political which can be heard right from catchy album opener Revolution. He seems to have taken a more subtle approach to his usually literal lyrics, which works in his favour. This is most noticeable on Johnny’s Gone a track about our former prime minister.
While many will be critical of the move into a more commercial sound, April Uprising contains some great radio friendly tracks. One Way Road has been played all over commercial radio and television commercials in the last few months and it’s easy to see why. Mixing his trademark roots with a rockier sound is a winning formula and it is by far the best track on the album. Don’t Wanna See Your Face is a heavier funk track and sounds like nothing else he’s released. C’mon Now could almost be a punk anthem if it wasn’t for the 12 string guitar and Butler’s vocals.
There are signs of his old sound on Ragged Mile and A Star is Born but it isn’t quite the same without the previous trio. Byron Luthiers’s use of electric bass instead of double bass gives the tracks more of a punch but lacks the subtley and warmth of Shannon Birchall’s work. Nicky Bomba’s percussion is not as intricate as Michael Barker’s but does its job well, even providing more of a rock edge.
While the 15 tracks are great for die-hard fans, for the casual listener it can feel like the album drags on and is too heavy going in places. That said, April Uprising contains some of the band’s catchiest work and whether or not you enjoy this album really depends on how much of a John Butler Trio fan you are.