Slow-burning second album from Toby Burke's equine three-piece

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This Month In Americana

Apparently descended from Alexander Selkirk, the model for Robinson Crusoe, Melbourne native Burke took inspiration from fellow Aussie Paul Kelly, swiping the Horse Stories banner from a Dirty Three album and hitting the local circuit in the late ’90s. Disillusioned and suffocated by his hometown scene, he fled to LA in 1999 to hole up with his similarly ex-pat attorney brother and try out as a TV writer. Beginning to dabble again with guitar and eight-track, he was soon bolstered by power-popping Texan ace Clinton Stapleton (drums, ex-National) and dub-punker Jeff Holmes (guitar, ex-Dingees).

Last year’s debut, Travelling Mercies (For Troubled Paths), was a triumph, serving notice of smouldering talent. For its follow-up, the trio headed for John Barrymore’s old Pacific mountain hideaway, Indigo Ranch, and fashioned an impressionistic mood piece, substituting blacktop metaphor for all things ocean spray. Burke mines the duality of the sea, finding both freedom and no escape in its vastness.

With Son Volt’s Eric Heywood adding banks of pedal steel, the painterly approach on curtain-raiser “Push My Buttons” is typical:softly churning guitars, a strain of harmonica and Burke’s keening, skyward falsetto. Comparisons with Thom Yorke are inevitable, but Burke’s gentler, less corrosive tone is closer to Jacob Golden or Ben Christophers. Light and shadow are provided by the sidelong skip of “Bottled Train”, accordion/piano-led instrumental “The Calming Effects… Of Rum And True Friendship” and the vocal tour de force “The Rocks And The Waves”. If it all gets too much, there’s “Chanty (For A Drowning Sinner)”?a rum-choked hornpipe replete with shakers, squeezeboxes and rail spikes. Nice.