The right collaboration can really bring out the best. This is the case with WA blues and roots outfit Mister and Sunbird, which resulted from the merger of Scott Kociuruba’s project, Mister and the Near Mrs, and Dave Lawrence’s Sunbird. The combined musical and song-writing talent of this pairing has produced The Anatomy of Mister and Sunbird, a quality album with a strong sense of character.
While the clarity of production here makes everything sound fresh and immediate, there is also a sense that you are being transported back to a time when music was enjoyed predominantly in smoky bars and dance halls. The retro stylings of the album extend to its artwork and structure, presented like a leather-bound Victorian reference book and with songs grouped into chapters corresponding with the anatomical theme (Bones, Blood, Body and Brain).
Starting out in traditional R’n’B mode with the jaunty “Seven Years Bad Luck” and the dirty blues of “Blues for Lady Macbeth”, the album lulls the listener into an expectation that the songs to follow might follow a conventional path. But the genius of the LP is that it constantly takes us in new directions, with song-writing that mines every nuance of the genre.
We get sexy jazz in “Rockin the Soft Parade”, complete with muted trumpet solo, and a serve of ska and big band in “Girls Don’t Like Rhyme”.
“Bomp n’ Roll” is all dirty swamp blues, while the more elaborate instrumentation of “I Gave Myself Up to the River” moves towards prog rock. The vocals then come to the fore in the silky crooner, “The Bottom of White”.
As its title suggests, “In the Smoker’s Room” oozes character and transports you to some cavernous lounge bar from a bygone era.
The final two tracks offer up something completely new again. “La Guapa en Barcelona” is great fun, hitting an infectious Latin groove. Things then draw to a close with the beautiful nine minute instrumental “High Tea”, a hypnotic blend of guitar fingerpicking and soft organ.
The musicianship throughout is first-rate, with intricate (at times dramatic) instrumentation, solos in abundance and vocals that alternate between smooth crooning, falsetto and rock growls. This is an offering of great warmth and a highly enjoyable listen; it is both full of energy and the perfect companion to a late night.
Radio in this country probably won’t play this, but it should; it is one of the strongest Australian albums of the year. Mister and Sunbird deserve to find a very large audience.
The Anatomy of Mister and Sunbird is available now on iTunes.
Reviewed by Matthew Trainor
Images from Mister and Sunbird Facebook page.