Free Range (Live 2012)
It was great to hear this – because I missed out on seeing the reunion shows. It was great to hear this because I love The Mutton Birds and I’m sure, for the many that did go to the reunion shows earlier this year it will be great to have this as a souvenir.
That said, I’m not sure this is anything other than a souvenir.
Although, for me, it was a reminder of a great band; I’ve never forgotten about The Mutton Birds but sometimes I forget to listen to them. I don’t feel that Free Range (Live 2012) in any way replaces any of the band’s albums – and it doesn’t replace the need to have those albums. But it was nice to hear this, nice to think of the band back together and sounding good.
Don McGlashan has written so many great songs – and I think that he offered a lot of his finest work within the Mutton Birds framework but what actually happened when I played Free Range was I focussed in on everything else. I was reminded, instantly, of how great David Long was in the context of this band (and how he continues to be a fabulous musician outside of The Mutton Birds). I thought, too, of how Alan Gregg’s songs were a crucial counterpoint to Don. McGlashan was tarred with the characters/stories style of songwriting and Gregg gave the band a handful of melodic gems to sit in and around the sketches.
And I was reminded – instantly – that Ross Burge is, on the day, the greatest drummer in New Zealand.
I didn’t feel sad that I’d missed the reunion tour when I heard this – because I saw the band a bunch of times back when they were a band. And even though they had something of a reputation for never quite getting it together live I always thought they were fabulous. Every time I saw them they delivered. So when the reunion shows were announced I was instantly happy for everyone that was going – particularly anyone who never got to see the band back in the day.
And hearing Free Range makes me happy too – but I don’t feel it’s in any way crucial. I would recommend a person buy the first three albums (not that there’s anything wrong with the fourth, mind. Get that too).
And this is not to suggest that McGlashan was not important to the sound of the Mutton Birds – that’s a given. He was the voice – as writer, singer and with that haunting euphonium.
In fact that is the best moment on this album. The opening track. The band launches into the title track from Envy of Angels and there’s something special happening instantly. All of those wonderful components – a deceptively brilliant groove, David Long’s guitar-genius and McGlashan with the waft and float of that horn – it’s subtly stunning. And then his imagery kicks in, adds to the song. Gives it weight. It might all start to feel majestic, wonderful, spellbinding…
But hey, if you’ve heard it all before you might want to just try-before-you-buy before you hear it all again. Because there’s nothing transcendent here, nothing revelatory – it is just business. As usual.