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The John Butler Trio Living 2001–2002 2-CD set, Jarrah Records, JBT 004, rrp $29.95

This is John Butler’s fourth release, on his own Jarrah label, and is a compilation of live tracks that make you envy those audiences.

Listening to Butler’s fiery playing on a range of guitar types and styles, you are forced to reflect on the extraordinary potential of three instruments: guitar, bass and drums. Three basic instruments can sound, in these master hands, like smoky-simple blues that hark straight back to Robert Johnson and the Delta. Or again, complex layered impromptus that recall Cream at its most oceanic, most monumentally symphonic. Then there is more contemporary legato electric wailing that floats over deep acoustic bass punctuated by bongo staccato. Butler’s voice is baritone, but clean and flexible with a Hendrix darkness. His vocal obbligati have a lyricism that rivals the counter-tenor keening of the late Jeff Buckley. The Trio are very Australian, with lyrics that are strongly political, with a bolshie load of pro-conservation, refugee, reconciliation baggage that never weighs the music down. If you were wondering who was going to fill the gaping hole left in Australian music by Midnight Oil’s retirement, here is one answer. 

Juliette Hughes

Stephanie McCallum, The Liszt Album. ABC Classics ABC 472 763-2, rrp $29.95

McCallum is a pianist of formidable technique and musicality. Yet Liszt’s fireworks can seem strangely thin at times, and that is puzzling. Is it that the melodious nature of his improvisations is too sweet for a 21st-century ear? Or are we so jaded that we can’t cope with a bit of sheer 19th century? Horowitz and Gould have trodden the same measure without making one uneasy, but perhaps it is almost impossible for a young player to do ‘On Wings of Song’ today without invoking the memory of it muzaked in lifts and supermarkets. McCallum—whose career overseas was notable before she returned to join the
permanent teaching staff at Sydney Conservatorium—does negotiate Liszt’s rapids with great fluency, making it all sound so easy. Sometimes it comes with layered surprises: McCallum’s reading of Liszt’s reading of Schubert’s ‘Auf dem Wasser zu singen’ is an example of how far one can travel. The CD is good value: over 78 minutes of terrific playing. This is absolutely a CD to play when you’re having the in-laws to dinner. It goes with Double Bay dining rooms stocked with Riedel goblets and serious large white plates. Put it on and have a dry sherry.

Juliette Hughes

Australia’s Religious Communities: A Multimedia Exploration (on CD-ROM for IBM or MAC). Editor, Philip J. Hughes; Research Assistant, Sharon Bond; published by the Christian Research Association (Australia). isbn 1 875223 20 7, rrp $110

This CD-ROM is a wonderful reference tool on Australia’s religious communities for those engaged in tertiary, secondary or primary education. It will also interest a general audience, with a sensitivity to the diversity of communities under discussion, as well as to the different expectations of those who use it. For those hesitant about technology, be assured: this multimedia tool is user-friendly.

The statistical research on around 30 major religions, and approximately 100 religious groups in Australia, is based on 1996 census returns. However it is possible, using the professional version of the program, to register with the Christian Research Association and receive two year’s free access to the database.

The section ‘What is Religion?’ opens with substantive definitions and descriptions, followed by the history of religion and a time chart from 40,000 bce to the present. There is an interactive history and an extensive examination of Australian religious identity, practices, beliefs and organisations of outreach and welfare.

There are some intriguing emphases: for example, a contrast between the strongly clerical imagery in the section on Anglicanism, and the Catholic section, which has a bishop engaged in foot-washing. The expected historical and doctrinal content and statistics about changes taking place in the Australian Catholic Church are noted, but so is the ‘explosion in the number of people taking on roles in ministry’, which has been ‘paralleled by increasing numbers undertaking studies in theology, religious education and pastoral ministry, either at tertiary institutions or at adult education centres’. This observation is from Woman and Man: One in Christ Jesus: Report on the participation of women in the Catholic Church in Australia (Harper Collins), which indicates that a primary source of energy in the Catholic Church is women’s increasing interest in further study and active ministry.

Mainstream religions such as Judaism, Buddhism and Hinduism in Australia can be studied distinct from their global origins, and the exploration of their Australian identity and development is helpful to the researcher. Some unexpected headings—neo-paganism, for example—lead to enlightening details about neo-paganism’s history, complexity and expansion in recent years.

The section ‘Other’ contains a diverse group of religions and cults, from the 3HO Foundation, Acharya’s Yoga & Meditation Centre, and Ananda Marga to Worldwide Church of God and Zoroastrianism.

Islam is represented as ‘the world’s fastest-growing religion’, challenging the prevailing anglocentric Australian mindset. Australia’s Religious Communities deals primarily with the Australian experience of Islam, so perhaps it is understandable that an irenic rather than divisive approach characterises the entry.

The Aboriginal section offers a wealth of content—text and art—to illustrate the origins of Indigenous people in Australia, their beliefs and practices, their stories and rituals. There are biographies of key religious leaders, women and men. Links between this section and sections on churches show the importance of theological education and community service in Australian society.

This is a fine venture—a boon for schools, libraries and indeed for anyone with an interest in religion in Australia.

Maryanne Confoy



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