Even though he plays with his sister Julia in the eponymous duo Angus & Julia, Angus Stone has still made space for two solo albums over the span of their six-year career. His latest, Broken Brights, heralds the Australian soul’s transplant to Laurel Canyon. The last album came out under an odd nom de plume, Lady of the Sunshine; but this time, Stone nakedly puts his own name to Broken Brights, delivering a record akin to the work with his sister while taking many musical cues from the Canyon era.
Stone studiously reflects on loves insecurities in the opening song, River Love, suitably fuelled by meandering guitar, fiddle, and mandolin until the tune progresses into a jig. This instrumental segue is less uplifting than its spirited tones suggest, as Stone ends on the question, “Will she bring roses when Im dead?” His rambling drawl strongly echoes Bob Dylan here and elsewhere on the record, yet on the title track his voice is contrastingly pure and unaffected. Broken Brights wraps nostalgic, somewhat inconsequential lyrics about recapturing youth around a softly strummed melody and gentle electric guitar solos. The song’s certain ephemeral beauty and delivery from the heart counter its simplicity.
Broken Brights generally feels laid-back even in its rockier electric moments. Its easy-on-the-ear rhythms call up Dire Straits, while Stone’s sporadic distorted guitar solos evoke Neil Young in his Crazy Horse era, especially on songs like Bird On A Buffalo and Only A Woman. It’s hard not to admire his skill as Stone adds brightness and color to even his downbeat tales. On The Blue Door, tremolo guitar and flute mirror the cautionary lyrics with Western ambience, and he sprinkles tiny sound effects over the guitar-woven space oddity Apprentice Of The Rocket Man.
Touches like these lift Broken Brights above the mundane, as Stone demonstrates production skills worthy of an addition to his resume. Superficially, this album could be filed as “easy listening”; and to some extent, it is. But it redeems itself by demanding careful listening: There’s always something unexpected around the corner.
Essential Tracks: River Love, The Blue Door