For what is really a compilation of rare singles, guitarist Mick Turner’s fourth full-length release falls together well as a whole statement. He’s essentially mining just one idea and one mood, neither of which is far from his work with the Dirty Three. The colors are all dusky, the melodies short but cyclical, the rhythms loose and airy, all of it tiptoeing the line between melody and abstraction, with the weight leaning toward the melody. It’s a risk these days to keep things so spare, to slow things down to the point that time stops so everyone can stare. But that’s the risk Turner takes, even if his delicate touch sometimes covers the fact that what he does is a risk.
Blue Trees essentially has two parts, but the difference between them is only one of degree, not kind. The first six tracks are by Turner’s duo with Dirty Three drummer Jim White, and the last eight are Turner on his own. Pieces like “Swing (parts 1 & 2)” and “Kit’s Choice” are the duo in their comfort zone, White finding themes in sparse backbeats and Turner wedding wistful single-note themes to slow-moving chords and harmonica loops. “Away” is the duo’s dialogue at its most tenuous – and its best. They don’t vary the melody and rhythm as much as they let them ebb and flow, pictures that slip in and out of focus, always blurry around the edges.
Because the songs here walk such narrow lines – between simplicity and experimentation, between gentleness and sentiment – they also end up in the borderland between the wide open and the empty. The tracks with White generally explore that space; Turner’s solo pieces try to fill it, and sometimes go too far. The percussion exotica of “Carny” is a glaring oddity, while the organ and melodica of “The Beach That Leads to Your Shore” squeeze a sweet melody so hard it turns saccharine. Paradoxically, it’s when Turner dares to step back, like in the vignettes of the “Angel” series, and untether his hold on the arrangements so that they can run on their own that the listener hears most clearly what he’s looking for.