Release Date: Nov 19, 2013
Record label: Drag City
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Rock, Experimental Rock
Though Dirty Three guitarist Mick Turner has done loads of session work and played with bandmate Jim White in Tren Brothers, he hasn't released a solo offering since 2002's Moth. Don't Tell the Driver was written and recorded over a four-year period at Australia's Big Moth Studio. While it retains his singular guitar style -- an elliptical meld of implied melody gradually coaxed from fingerpicked chords and restrained strummed strings -- all tolled, it's unlike anything he's done before.
Mick Turner has long been a guitarist who eschews the spotlight. The Australian artist seems most content when supporting the bombast of his cohorts in Dirty Three or providing a foundation for collaborators like Chan Marshall and Will Oldham to build upon. So it should come as little surprise that, while his name is on the front cover of this album, Turner resides in the background of these tracks.
Touted as “the first post-rock rock opera of our times,” Mick Turner’s Don’t Tell the Driver more closely qualifies as “a strong record that Calexico fans will love. ” Look, the guitarist for Australia’s Dirty Three—a group that still hasn’t earned the recognition it deserves—himself is owed some comeuppance for lingering on the side of the stage while frontman Warren Ellis literally spits and bites at the crowd. But let’s be real: Turner’s solo outing is more akin to one of his beautiful pastel paintings, which have graced Dirty Three album covers, than a grandiose effort that would have been made by Jason Pierce or Pink Floyd.
Mick Turner’s music rocks and lurches, yaws and tacks like a small boat in choppy water. Throughout his career as a band member and solo artist, but especially on his new album Don’t Tell the Driver, the Australian guitarist favors listing rhythms and loose meters that suggest unrehearsed spontaneity but also tribulation, peril, even a touch of seasickness. “All Gone", which opens Driver, builds from a hard rustle of drums and shakers, then adds a scrambling guitar riff that sounds like it’s trying to shake itself free of the undertow.
Earlier this year, Drag City reissued early albums from Venom P. Stinger, Mick Turner’s punk band with fellow Dirty Three member and drummer Jim White. The songs seemed both from another time, one long forgotten, and the feral forefathers of Turner’s work as a member of Dirty Three and his solo records, among other projects. What becomes clear in hearing those jagged tunes is this: Turner has been doing this for a long time, and like his painting, he’s been building his sound one unruly swirl at a time.
Though best known as the guitarist in Warren Ellis’ peerless Dirty Three, Mick Turner has managed to forge an impressive musical CV in his own right, leaving his mark on collaborations with Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy and Cat Power. Don’t Tell The Driver is his first solo venture since 2003’s Moth, a fully realised series of ragged and often rather lovely soundscapes fleshed out by an impressive supporting cast. Opener All Gone sets the scene nicely with a slightly unsettling, woozy Mariachi feel, and Turner’s guitar-playing remains as beautifully, scruffily distinctive as an old friend’s handwriting.
Primal Scream's Bobby Gillespie says that the Dirty Three's guitarist Mick Turner's playing reminds him of "the way the stars are spaced out in the sky", as accurate a stab as any at the Australian painter's languid, irregular, textured strokes. Turner has made solo albums before – this is his fourth – but Don't Tell The Driver is like an exceptionally laid-back, violin-free record by the Dirty Three (free-form Australians very loosely affiliated to Nick Cave). The occasional vocalist – such as Caroline Kennedy-McCracken on Here's a Way – disrupts the expectation of free-form instrumental music, but not excessively.
Though he’s released material on his own in the past, it’s been 10 years since Dirty Three guitarist Mick Turner put out a solo LP. Much like his band’s fusion of traditional and folk elements, jazz adventurism, and post-rock grandiosity, Turner’s Don’t Tell The Driver returns to stretch towards the sky, looping various grooves together until one makes sufficient impact to focus on. While this building of layers often takes on a mesmeric quality, Turner’s band occasionally seems to fall yawning into sleepy stretches of aimless ambience.
Don’t Tell the Driver is not an opera, whatever Dirty Three guitarist Mick Turner might tell you. This languid, introspective, loosely drawn series of musical mood pieces is too diffuse and glancing, for one thing, insinuating but never quite laying out a story line of remembered love and idealized connection. For another, there’s not that much singing, just a couple of impossibly tender, breathy, vocal caresses from Caroline Kennedy-McCracken (she of the Plums, Deadstar and The Tupils), and one rather stunning performance Oliver Mann (who is, as it happens, an actual opera singer).