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The Graham Weekly Album Review #1676

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Busby Marou
by George Graham

(Footstomp Music 1 As broadcast on WVIA-FM 2/29/2012)

Folky duos have been around for a long time -- going back to the 1960s, with Simon & Garfunkel, Ian and Sylvia, Richard & Mimi Farina, and on though Brewer & Shipley, Batdorf & Rodney, and somewhat more recently, Indigo Girls. While there are still a few such duo acts around, they are less numerous these days, and they tend to be obscure, or less folky. This week, we have a first-rate duo, who play what used to be called "folk-rock" back in the day, and do it in a classic style with nice vocal harmonies, an acoustic-guitar dominated sound and upbeat hummable songs. And interestingly, they are from Australia, a town called Rockingham along the northeast coast. They call themselves Busby Marou, combining their respective surnames. Thomas Busby is the main lead vocalist and plays guitar, and Jeremy Marou is a multi-instrumentalist who provides the harmonies. They claim joint composers' credits for all the original material on their CD, which is also called Busby Marou.

This is the duo's first full-length recording. They did some Internet singles and made a video. Busby Marou the album was released in Australia in June 2011, and now is being targeted for American audiences, who unless they were told would likely believe the group is as American as apple pie. They resemble a two-voice version of Crosby Stills and Nash, as they sounded on their first album, or the cult favorite Batdorf and Rodney. Like the latter, Busby Marou do love songs, and most are sanguine in mood. This is definitely not an album of deeply profound, melancholic ruminations. Instead, the music is sunny and upbeat, but very nicely crafted.

Busby and Marou are joined on most tracks by a small band including Thomas Henderson on keyboards and Jacob Mann on drums. Like some American folk rockers of years past, Busby Marou lets a little country influence creep into their music with steel guitar, banjo and the like. While the lyrics are often on the light side with the subject matter of the original songs mostly being variations on the familiar love theme, the result is a well-rounded recording that adds a 21st Century twist to a classic musical format. They include a couple of cover songs, but fortunately choose fairly obscure ones, including one from Ben Harper.

The CD opens with a track that sets the musical tone for the rest of the recording, All of You. It's a thoroughly appealing upbeat love song that hits all the right buttons for this kind of music. <<>>

With a similar musical subject is Biding My Time, which was issued as the single -- or that song that they chose to be the subject of a music video on their website. It's also nicely done. <<>>

A song called Banjo shows some of Busby Marou's country side. It's probably the saddest set of lyrics on the album, implying an imminent breakup. <<>>

Another highlight of the CD is Paint My Cup (Early 60s). It's the story of a long-running relationship. <<>>

Busby Marou's cover of the Ben Harper song is Not Fire Not Ice, which is in keeping with the love-songs theme of the album. Its a mostly solo performance by Thomas Busby. <<>>

Also with some country-rock influence is a song called Save Some for the Others. It's a kind of love song but lyrically more complicated than many of the album's other compositions. <<>>

A track called Underlying Message is a nice combination of the group's musical ingredients, put together in a more elaborate mixture than on most of the rest of the CD. There are the love-song lyrics plus the folk, country and rock influences that come together in different facets of the song. <<>>

The CD ends with a piece called Konomie, co-written by Margaret Hornagold, who is from the band's hometown of Rockingham, Australia. The acoustic performance serves as a kind of contemplative coda to the album. <<>>

The Australian duo of Thomas Busby and Jeremy Marou have created a very appealing debut CD, evoking classic folkie duos of the past, and bringing together rather timeless influences -- strumming acoustic guitars, nice high, pitch-true vocal harmonies, tuneful songs, and mostly positive love-song lyrics. It's a feel-good kind of recording that's very nicely done, with very good attention to detail and getting the folk-rock duo sound down pat, without being imitative. Their sound is an amalgam of familiar, tried-and-true influences, put together in a very tasteful manner.

Our grade for audio quality is an A-Minus. The acoustic instruments and vocals are well-recorded, with minimal studio effects and the sound does not try to mimic the audio imperfections of the old analog days, as so many such recordings these days do. But the CD suffers from the usual over-compression that saps the dynamics of the performance just to be loud.

I suppose that Busby Marou the album, could be considered retro, for its folk duo format and sound, and the way it is built on classic musical ingredients, including lyrics that are variations on the love song. But this is the kind of sound that is timeless, and has never really gone out of style, among folk fans, so it's not really musical nostalgia. But whether you think that the music is some kind of revival or not, it's all very well done, and marks an impressive debut for this duo from Down Under.

(c) Copyright 2011 George D. Graham. All rights reserved.
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