Rock and roll is truly American in its ability to take all comers: give it your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to wield a Fender Strat in front of thousands. Doesn't matter where you're from or what you do... as long as you do it well; it also helps if you do it better or differently than anyone else. John Butler is Australia's latest entry into the stateside music arena and upon hearing this, you might think that "Australian" is his schtick, his gimmick, his thing that separates him from everyone else, makes him special. You'd be wrong, though. His latest effort, What You Want fails to establish itself as something better or different and there's nothing about it to suggest it was culled from anywhere but the American south: a place where many great and mediocre musicians have come seeking the golden opportunity of the rock and roll melting pot. As far as originality goes, Butler's music feels very familiar – like I said, southern in its roots, it seems an inbred child from Dave Matthews' Virginia and Luther and Cody Dickinson's Mississippi. Butler seems caught straddling the sweet, lovable, jammbop of the Dave Matthews Band and the raunchy, dirty slide-infused blues of the North Mississippi Allstars. The result is enjoyable enough, like a latter day teen comedy flick, but leaves one wondering if they were better off sticking with some old John Hughes DVD's.

The disc is credited to the John Butler Trio, but he'd be better off dropping the pretense and just calling it his own. For one, each track seems to feature a different trio altogether, which is confusing and longs for some consistency. The opening, title track isn't limited to a trio at all, rather it is an ambitious, near-epic with sweeping strings adding some meat to the ribs of the usual fare. If there is anything here to grab hold of, it is Butler's energy and enthusiasm. You can feel it seeping out throughout the album – everything radiates from and to his songs, everything else is just there to support him. He's certainly talented enough to carry What You Want, with powerful, emotional vocals and edgy, scintillating playing of guitars, lap steel and dobro throughout. "Something's Gotta Give" is a bit tired and already seems dated with its general observations of the state of the world. "Treat Your Mama" is the best track with some deep, Appalachian vibes and up-tempo, self-proclaimed "country funk." Having a Beatles cover on your CD can never hurt and Butler obliges with an earful of "Across the Universe." It's enough to keep the disc in the "save" pile, but it's not enough to get a ringing endorsement. Look for more in the future from John Butler, check him out live, feel the energy and support rock and roll immigration.

Aaron Stein
JamBase | New York
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[Published on: 12/3/04]

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