From the opening chords of “Thrill is Gone,” Bernard Fanning’s disc Tea and Sympathy has an old time feel of a 70’s singer/songwriter. The track is replete with mandolin and acoustic guitar and sounds like a Graham Nash b-side. To put it in a more contemporary perspective, I’ll say it sounds a lot like the Jayhawks on Rainy Day Music. Regardless, “Thrill is Gone” is the perfect introduction to one of rock music’s lesser known stars.
Bernard Fanning is the lead singer of Powderfinger, one of the biggest rock bands in Australia for the last 10 years. Though not exactly a household name in the United States, Powderfinger is bigger than big in the Land Down Under and has won countless awards. Whereas Powderfinger brings the rock, Tea and Sympathy brings the folk. This is simple, beautiful, laid-back, acoustic music. Producer Tchad Blake who has worked with Sheryl Crow and Phantom Planet was at the knobs for this disc and his quality production harnesses Fanning’s sound perfectly.
First single “Wish You Well” is a toe-tapping, feel good ditty that would be all over modern radio if radio stations were fair. Fanning has never been one to deny his Neil Young influences but they are hard to ignore on the song “Not Finished Just Yet.” Violin-fueled single “Songbird” sounds like a Ben Harper/Teddy Thompson hybrid, and the fifth song, “Believe,” sounds like a lost James Taylor track. When Fanning chooses to pick up the tempo, as he does on “Which Way Home” (the album’s loudest and most energetic) he truly shines and this is easily and one of the best songs on the album. “Wash Me Clean” is a simple ballad with just Fanning and his guitar and he sounds absolutely perfect. Perhaps my favorite on this disc is the cleverly titled “Sleeping Rough”, a jangly sing along that has crowd-pleaser written all over it. “Further Down the Road” is another acoustic song with just Fanning and his guitar and its on this one he sounds the most earnest, the most scared, and the most sincere. This is one of those songs that really draws you in. ‘Down To The River” is a haunting and bare bones number that gives way to electric guitars and picks up in the same sense that “Which Way Home” did. After that the CD kinda fizzles a bit, but when all is said and done it’s 13 tracks of sensational folk-rock. Sadly for us, Powderfinger has announced they are headed back into the studio so it looks like Fanning might be closing the curtain on the short-lived solo career. If that’s the case, at least he shined while doing it.
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