I've heard of a guitar being played with a violin bow. I've heard of a saw being played as an instrument. But I've not heard of a guitar being played with a saw, though I swear that's what happens at the end of "Cold Wind," the third track on John Butler Trio's Flesh & Blood. It's the most interesting detail on the new release. The album's cover art is a raw collage of saws and other noisemakers, plus a fretboard hangs on the wall, dismembered from its body. The closer the trio gets to the danger and deconstruction that image promises, the better it gets.
Still, a lot of Flesh & Blood is in a safer register. There's a tug-of-war between the John Butler that picks away at an acoustic guitar, singing perhaps a bit too earnestly, and the John Butler that wields an electric guitar and spouts swagger. The former is John Mayer-esque, the latter delivers a style not unlike Anthony Kiedis at the Red Hot Chili Peppers' peak. Lead single "Only One" exemplifies the safe approach, with a catchy rhythm and a saccharine lyrical hook where he sings, "To me you are the only one." Skip backward one track, though, and you'll find the centerpiece of the album, "Blame It On Me." It's a long, funky piece that mostly leaves vocals behind after the two-minute mark. As Butler lets his guitar rumble, purr, skronk, stutter and shriek through the rest of the song, you wonder why he'd do it any other way.
The John Butler Trio plays the Wilma Wed., Feb. 12. Doors at 7 PM, show at 8. $26 at Rockin Rudy's.