Album Review: John Williamson’s 20th studio record Butcherbird (2018 LP) reinforces his status as a national treasure

When the opportunity to review the new album from Australian legend John Williamson came up, I jumped at it. I listen to his singles more than what’s probably healthy, so much so that he’s listed as one of my ‘top artists’ on my Bumble profile. I have vivid memories of myself and a friend requesting his mum play “Old Man Emu” over and over again on their CD player when I was five years old (it may or may not now be my go-to karaoke track too). “True Blue” is the epitome of an Australian classic; whilst “Rip Rip Woodchip” makes you feel just that little bit closer to the bush. And while the new album Butcherbird might not have all that many ‘instant’ classics, it’s still a jolly good jaunt.

I’ll happily admit I’m not the biggest of country fans. I love that scene in Blues Brothers as much as the next guy (you know, the one where someone says ‘we have both types of music: Country and Western’). But beyond that, my taste and listening habits within the Country and Australiana genre is limited to classic John Williamson. With that in mind, I genuinely have enjoyed listening to what Williamson has put together here on Butcherbird. From the opening double dose of “The Valley of His Dreams/ It Doesn’t Get Better Than This” you’re thrown into what country music is and what Williamson has built his career on: a love of the land, country, and self belief. Come to think of it, maybe everyone should listen to country music just that little bit more.

“Pigs On The River” has that dirty, gritty, grotty and earthy feel to it, while “Looking For a Story” is a classic war ballad, much like the old nationalistic and bloody brilliant “Diggers of The Anzac”. Touching on the inability to comprehend why we (or politicians) continually send troops to war and yet never seem to apologise for loss of life, the closing notes on the harmonic in the style of “The Last Post” is genuinely heartfelt.

“Buddy & Slim” is a throwback to the classics of Australia past, with just about every notable lyricist and poet name-checked at some point. “Simpson Desert” is the joke track of the album, while “Lucky To Be Alive” is as close as Williamson will come to re-writing “Home Amongst The Gum Trees”. Hidden behind the sound of a classic love song is the saddest moment of the album, coming in the form of “You Don’t Love Your Love Anymore”. Self explanatory with its title, you can’t help but feel a connection to the track.

While the entirety of John Williamson’s back catalogue isn’t something I’ll go out of my way to listen, I’m glad I’ve grown up in a household that’s allowed me to experience classic Australian music. John Williamson is a musician who does what he does very well. His connection with the land and its people, as well as those who built the nation’s formative identity, are what makes Williamson a national treasure. Butcherbird isn’t ground breaking, but I don’t think it needs to be. It’s an honest album, and frankly, I’m fine with that.

THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Butcherbird is out now.

John Williamson tours nationally throughout October and November.

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