“Sometimes, particular decisions appear to be the most sensible or realistic path to take. A civil, pragmatic compromise. But the passage of time reveals those decisions to have been flawed and to have far deeper and wide ranging consequences than predicted at the time. We all live with the consequences of our decisions but have daily things to attend to.” – Bernard Fanning.
Decisions and consequences. These are the two themes that underpin Civil Dusk, the third solo album by multi ARIA and APRA Award winning singer-songwriter Bernard Fanning. But more on those in a moment.
With his solo career now spanning a 10-year period, Fanning has firmly cemented his position as one of Australia’s finest songwriters and lyricists. From the country folk-tinged charm of his multi-platinum debut solo album Tea and Sympathy to the synth beats and horn breaks of its follow up Departures, Fanning is a songwriter in continuous motion, his trusty notebook never far from his side.
If the song writing and recording process for 2013’s Departures was to deliberately challenge what had come before, the approach for album number three was about stripping back and reclaiming simplicity.
After Departures, Bernard Fanning wrote briefly on his Kingscliff verandah before returning to Spain to pen the majority of the acoustic guitar and piano based songs in a Madrid basement. On his return, Fanning opened La Cueva Studios in Byron Bay with his long time friend, colleague and producer Nick DiDia and continued writing for the project.
The result is Civil Dusk, 10 songs that represent the dynamics and complexities that lie between the bookends of decisions and consequences. The persistent noise in your head, the difficulties of untangling from a relationship that has failed, sorrow, devotion, choices, unease and reconciling the daily anxieties of 21st century life with those who don’t have any such modern trappings to contend with.
Recorded at La Cueva, the album was produced, engineered and mixed by DiDia who has worked with artists including Powderfinger, Bruce Springsteen, Pearl Jam, Rage Against the Machine, Aimee Mann and Matthew Sweet. With recording wrapping up over Easter 2016, the songs are characterised by a sense of warmth, space and the earthy treatment of timber based instruments – acoustic guitar, piano, strings and violin.
“Space was very important for us during the recording. And timber and warmth. I realised that having people around me that I knew well was an important part of the process for me. Especially for a record like this that is really intimate and personal in places”, said Fanning.
Performing much of the instrumentation himself, Fanning assembled a group of friends to lend a hand for the Civil Dusk studio sessions including bass player Matt Engelbrecht, guitarists Andrew Morris (The Wilson Pickers) and Ian Haug (Powderfinger, The Church), Declan Kelly on percussion and drums, Hamish Rosser (The Vines, Wolfmother) also on drums, Ian Peres (piano and keyboard), The Wilson Pickers John Bedggood (also on piano), Salliana Campbell on violin, mandolin and string arrangements and a special guest vocal appearance by long time buddy Kasey Chambers.
Civil Dusk offers up the paradox of musical simplicity and intricacy. And it captures the irony that with music, how it sounds can often betray how it feels. In keeping to true Fanning form, at its heart are melodies that are never at the expense of his keenly observed lyrics. Guitar in hand, heart on sleeve, Fanning is not uncomfortable asking the difficult emotional questions.
The lyrical themes on Civil Dusk are universal but deeply personal. From the heartbreaking opener Emerald Flame to the deceptively upbeat melody of Wasting Time (featuring the instantly memorable chorus ‘only the good love survives’), it’s clear that Fanning is in fine form.
What A Man Wants features keyboard and percussion that lead into a hymn-like chorus. Reckless opens with delicate acoustic guitar and builds with layers of harmonies under the refrain ‘How could you be so reckless?’. There is the sparse piano orchestration of Rush of Blood, the emotional centrepiece of the album. It’s followed by the rollicking, honky-tonk Change of Pace, which it literally is in the sequencing of Civil Dusk.
In L.O.L.A., hope springs eternal as Fanning asks himself ‘Who would have thought you’d be the one to make me feel this way’. The gentle Unpickin’ A Puzzle sees Fanning quietly reflecting on the repetition of lifetime mistakes. And in the fiddle laden Sooner Or Later there’s the suggestion of perseverance through difficult situations. Even when the cracks have begun to show.
Civil Dusk concludes with the harmonica led call-to-arms in Belly of the Beast, another example of how the choices we make (in this case, the choosing of our leaders) may ultimately have unexpected consequences down the track.
So we’re back to decisions and consequences and the subsequent fallout of those decisions when viewed through the passage of time.
“A Civil Dusk connotes a tranquility and tolerance of the status quo. It’s easy to be optimistic when the sun is setting and nature is providing us with a glorious view. It’s also easy to be pessimistic when you account for your daily troubles. So what’s right? Neither. BUT there’s eventually a Brutal Dawn coming.”
Civil Dusk is a collection of songs by an artist who is not satisfied with settling, but rather using his life’s own rear-view mirror to question his choices and deal with the consequences. Whatever they may be.
Civil Dusk is part one of a series of two albums. The second installment Brutal Dawn will follow in early 2017.