‘When the morning comes gonna shed my skin’………
So begins Bernard Fanning’s second installment in a two album coupling Civil Dusk/Brutal Dawn. Renewal, realization, reconciliation and evolution are the ‘brutal’ answers to Civil Dusk’s lyricism, revision, tenderness and romance.
Opening track Shed My Skin lays a bare bones, hypnotic arrangement behind a mournful lyric that sees its author contemplating tomorrow’s release from prison after ’14 years’. It details hope and regret and a long held desire to make amends to loved ones he has damaged for ‘one foolish act of indierence’. The stark internal dialogue exposes the perpetual stain that one mistake can cast across a life, backed by Salliana Campbell’s gypsy violin and Declan Kelly’s asymmetrical rhythm, it perfectly communicates the feelings of anticipation and jittery expectation that the prisoner is feeling. Clare Bowditch provides a sublime background vocal that reveals the unease and tension involved in a couple reuniting after such an extended period.
How Many Times juxtaposes pain and comfort and explores the idea that love can endure any hardship, with an insistent but spare acoustic backing before a crunchy harmonica solo in the bridge lifts the song to its crescendo.
All The Glamour and Prestige, featuring Midnight Oil titan Rob Hirst on drums, and Somewhere Along the Way bear up tempo witness to dashed expectations while Isn’t It a Pity looks at the gap between memory and reality, neatly shifting between mellow verses and a glorious chorus driven by a funky soul groove. Again the idea of renewal and forward motion is captured in the final verse……….“Now all your fabled advice rings of emptiness and studied lines…..But I have resolved to erase all the bitterness and venom in my veins’.
Ten Years Gone revises a decade since the sudden breakdown of a relationship on a ‘brutal dawn’. The notion that the silences that follow are filled with doubts and questions about what went wrong lies over a beautifully understated West Coast Country piano ballad.
Fanning’s band The Black Fins give full force to songs that speak to the perils and benefits of deep reflection. Much of the same personnel from Civil Dusk create a dynamic record that has minimal instrumentation that reinforces the lyrics.
Matthew Engelbrecht on bass, again brings colour and bounce that accentuates the tension and release of Declan Kelly’s beautifully understated and angular drumming. Salliana Campbell’s fiddle brings an urgency and dissonance to the songs, that provides a stark contrast to Civil Dusk’s breezy melodies. It’s a testament to the skill and experience of producer Nick DiDia that only the bare minimum is included to communicate the albums themes, and when it is included, it counts. Guest spots by Ian Peres (Wolfmother) on keys and Clare Bowditch add gorgeous additional layers to a band of rare, deft skill. Fanning and DiDia’s La Cueva Recording in Byron Bay again provided the backdrop for this second installment in the series that was recorded through the summer of 2016/17.
Say You’re Mine shows Fanning at his poetic best and is a testament to the two albums being conceived as one larger piece of work “ I laid down that Blackbird in a comfortable nest and patted its dark feathers down’ recalls Civil Dusk’s Rush of Blood that saw the ‘Blackbird at your window singing blue into the day’. But now, he can ‘see its tiny heart beating hard in its chest, the humming of its wings such a heartbreaking sound’, carefully tying the two albums themes together.
Fighting For Air has its protagonist contemplating ‘how’d we end up here like souvenirs from another time?’ while No Name Lane details the relief of having come to terms with the diculties and stresses of the past with ‘show my enemies a warm embrace, crush them with kindness and grace’.
Letter From a Distant Shore rounds out Brutal Dawn with a traditional ballad that looks at what it takes to KILL for your country, as opposed to what it takes to DIE for your country, set against a First World War timeframe. An older brother warns his younger to avoid signing up to defend ‘a distant king’ after killing an enemy combatant. ’I watched the the crimson bloom on his uniform, billow like a cloud ’til his life was gone. In the chorus he waits for ‘the final hour’ when death will deliver him to ‘the howling hounds of hell’.
This is an album that has been carefully realized but manages to stay free of artifice or contrivance. It is an adept answer to the questions posed on its predecessor and points to a way forward for an artist that is wholeheartedly dedicated to the craft of songwriting and presenting them in an album format.