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Album Review

For fans of Dirty Three guitarist (and painter extraordinaire) Mick Turner and his partner in crime, drummer Jim White (together also known as the Tren Brothers), Blue Trees is good news indeed. Turner and the Trens have issued a number of vinyl-only singles and limited-edition CDs, and have had tracks on compilations that slipped by many. Blue Trees assembles a number of them — 14 to be exact — in stunning fidelity. The first seven cuts are by the Trens. One thing is immediately striking about the duo that makes up the D3's rhythm section. Their first EP was released in February of 1998, a month before the D3's wondrous Ocean Songs, a recording that divided many of the band's fans sharply. Less overtly rockist, more impressionistic than expressionistic, it becomes immediately clear when listening to those two records side by side that Turner and White had an integral part — and were perhaps the driving force — behind that change in the band's direction. While both men changed their dynamic as players, Turner completely reinvented himself as a guitarist while White found a way to create rhythm between beats. Together they created something so skeletal and shambolic yet elegant, so nearly bodiless, that the music is almost still, while shuffling ever forward — like water swirling in eddies and tide pools. They actually created an aesthetic, a kind of poetry in sound that altered the recordings of D3 permanently — even though they've gone back and forth in terms of force and dynamic since that time. In addition, they've graced the recordings of Will Oldham as Bonnie "Prince" Billy, and of Chan Marshall on the truly classic Cat Power recording Moon Pix as well.

Of the seven Tren tracks here, the nearly ten-minute two-part "Swing," featuring violinist Jessica Billey, is from a sold-out vinyl 45 of the same name released under the moniker Tren Brothers + Sister in 2001 on Chapter Music. "Away" (originally called "Gone Away") and "Kit's Choice" were the two sides of another single on Secretly Canadian. The other tracks are from compilations. Of Turner's seven solo recordings here, five of the tunes on the Seven Angels EP are present, but "Angel #5" is an unreleased version. Three other tracks come from long out of print compilations or are unreleased versions as well. However, as an assemblage, Blue Trees cuts its own mysterious path, at the beginning hypnotic and even pulsing in places, as in "Au Revoir, Mon Petit Chou" and "Help Me Mr. Rabbit, I Can't Get Out." The drift and drone and swirl of the D3 are evident in "Swing," but they're far subtler, and finally, as in "Jenny's Song," form nearly melts away altogether and the pair plays as a duo as if by telepathy. Turner's solo work extends from here; in "Angel #2" there's the droning multi-tracked delay system at work, which seems busy compared to his Tren Phantasma album. Then there is the gorgeous "The Beach That Leads to Your Shore," where Turner plays everything — a drum kit, melodica, organ, and an accordion, seemingly — but it's his guitar that stands apart, strummed just a fraction behind the waltz beat and distorted almost to the point of being a keyboard, except for the shimmering of the high strings at the end of his phrases. "Carny," an unreleased take from a compilation, is a busy, chaotic track where percussion (what sounds like a marimba, but Turner is mysterious about that) offers a tension made of real force, but the edges are rounded, almost elegant. The tune reaches instantly from the middle out to some margin that touches you completely and involves you in the busyness, creating a rhythmic abstraction where you could swear melody was in place just a moment before, its traces haunting the frame of the piece. "Sunny Xmas Day" feels like Turner's cover paintings look — gauzy, see-through — but they conceal as well. The music on "Angel #1" is complete, though it feels like almost nothing. Space exists in between each string of a chord and Turner understands that implicitly, yet never are his halting, minimal guitar tunes so abstract that the listener cannot enter. In fact, the opposite is true — you are invited not only to come inside, but to get lost forever in them. Ultimately, this is as fine a place to be introduced to the work of Turner and the Trens as it is to indulge yourself in if you're a fan. There is something new in this mysterious world each time the music is played. It's not only delightful; it's quietly obsessive and creates that feeling in the listener as well. Indispensable.


Born: 1960 in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '90s, '00s, '10s

Dirty Three guitarist Mick Turner began a solo career in 1997 with the release of Tren Phantasma, a collection of improvised four-track recordings featuring the contemplative guitar style he used with his group the Dirty Three. The following year, Turner and his bandmate Jim White played live as the Tren Brothers, carrying the album's aesthetic into a concert setting with an arsenal of loop pedals and understated percussion. Several of these dates were opening spots for Cat Power, with whom the duo...
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Blue Trees, Mick Turner
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