Yes, John Butler finding out about his ancestors and the influence of that experience on the creation of April Uprising makes for a nice story, but it’s just as significant to look back at John Butler Trio’s previous album, Grand National, and the influence that release had on this one. While Grand featured reggae-laced, roots-driven and jam-ready tunes, Butler understood that he was racing towards a dead end that would end up with a small but devoted group of fans who sought mellow grooves to go with a mellow buzz. April Uprising makes a strong statement that JBT not only wants a wider audience, but that the trio deserves it. Nothing wrong with expanding beyond the core crowd as long as the final result doesn’t have the stench of selling out. April Uprising sounds fresh and vital. The only major change here is that Butler focuses on songs – 15 in total – that are much more compact than previous efforts.
Butler mimics much of the music’s upbeat virtues with playful lyrics that zig when you expect them to zag. Opening track, “Revolution,” focuses on the inner revolution of transformation while also referencing the literal uprising against oppressive power structures, which was done by his Bulgarian relatives in 1875. Later, “C’mon Now” twists the viewpoint from intense love (“’Cause all I really think about is you”) to disdain (“’Cause all you really think about is you”). The material revels in the roots and reggae elements found on previous albums but bluegrass (solo on “C’mon Now”) hip-hop influences on “One Way Road” and “Don’t Wanna See Your Face” and a nod to pop structures (“C’mon Now,” “I’d Do Anything”) give the songs an added and lasting spark. The buoyant energy heard on much of the album ends up making the string-drenched ballad “I’m a Fool” and acoustic ode to his infant son, “A Star Is Born,” gain additional weight.
Although it’s Butler’s sixth studio release, his work here with the trio displays a passion and urgency that’s normally found on a debut. It’s as if he has writing and playing with something to prove, convincing older fans that JBT remains relevant in their lives while making a strong attempt to attract the interest of anyone who isn’t already on the bus. For all it will be a gratifying ride.