From The Bottom Of A Well (bradbutcher.com)
There’s an assumption made that those of us – ageing hipsters, inner city wankers, suburbanites in denial – who like what is called alt.country are by definition not fans of mainstream country.
I’d argue the dividing line isn’t between alt. country (a term with such wide parameters it has long ceased to be useful) and mainstream, but rather between quality and ordinary writing, between believable music and the contrivances of the try-hards, between good and rubbish, in either category.
While the money may be in the mainstream lane, and hence there’s a high proportion of fakery to be found there (no need to run their names here and get myself on their fans’ mailing lists once more), there are plenty of middling and piddling in the “cool” end too.
Brad Butcher may not necessarily categorise himself this way, but I think it would be reasonable to describe him as working within the mainstream of Australian country music, while not necessarily wholly being of it.
On this his third album, there’s no bluegrass or atmospheric overlays; he doesn’t wear an allegiance to Neil Young or Gram Parsons like a badge on his denim jacket; and he sings without affectations of age or locale.
At the same time, he doesn’t bang out bro country bullshit; doesn’t bung on the pedal steel in the middle of what is in every other aspect a rock song to say, “see, country”; and doesn’t make every song sound like a safe approximation of what the Golden Guitars shower glory and trophies on.
This is instead an album of simplicity. Of songs.
Butcher’s lyrics have a point to make rather than a box to tick, so at times you’ll find people struggling with mental health rather than the state of the crops, men who don’t know exactly how this works, women who matter but won’t necessarily be held, wrong decisions made and paid for, and moments when all that can be said is a call for clarity to help get to the next point in a life.
With the sensitive and subtle Matt Fell on production duties – one of the smartest moves Butcher made – there’s no effort to strip the instrumentation for that extra “raw” feel: there’s Wurlitzer and dobro, piano and fiddles here, alongside the usual suspects.
But neither is there any clutter around the playing of core band Josh Schuberth, Glen Hannah, AJ Hall and Fell, with everything sounding warm, close and clear, and the backing vocals present when needed but not over-rich.
Among several achievements by Fell, one that should be singled out is the tone of Butcher’s voice which on these songs are tension-free and conversational without ever hiding the fact the man can sing.
You won’t leave From The Bottom Of A Well feeling like you’ve had a revelation or that this is the answer to the eternal country music question in Australia of “how do we bridge inner city tastes and outer ‘burbs preferences”. No need to push that burden on it.
But there’s a comfort here that isn’t familiarity, rather a sense of things being in their right place. And that it happened easily, naturally.