Or what Angus Stone did when he decided to leave sister Julia behind and embark on a solo project. Smoking Gun has a sinister title, and for all intents and purposes this album is far removed from the Aussie duo’s sunshine folk pop.
All those enchanted by the Stones’ acoustic whimsy on A Book Like This will be thrown by the opening track on Smoking Gun. Silver Revolver starts as a simple acoustic strum but builds into something far more sinister, with the repeated refrain of “it’s all in my head” given added impetus as the percussion kicks in.
Home Sweet Home attempts to repeat the same trick but reveals far too early the essential flaw with this album. Stone’s vocals simply can’t carry the weight of his admittedly impressive songwriting. With Julia in tow the harmonies kick in and add an impressive gravitas to Stone’s songwriting, but on his own his wispy vocals simply don’t carry enough oomph.
Too often the music is left to fill in the gaps, with the raucous blues of White Rose Parade a case in point. This is an impressive enough stomp but you are left wishing for a modern bluesman of the calibre of Jack White to step in and deliver the lyrics.
Oddly enough, it is the more simplistic fare that carries more weight. Jack Nimble rides an eerie guitar refrain and manages to turn the well-known nursery rhyme into something far more sinister, with Angus’ wispy vocals adding an effective Syd Barrett vibe to proceedings. The title track is another cracker, Robert Cray comparisons aside, with Stone’s vocals fading in and out of a great blues rock riff.
It’s a trick he can’t repeat on lighter fare such as Big Jet Plane, Daisychain and Anna, which never rise beyond their simplistic melodies and turn-of-the mill lyrical conceits. On these tracks Stone finds himself stuck in a singer-songwriter rut that he has already proven he can easily eclipse.
Elsewhere, The Wolf rides a Nick Drake melody to good effect while on King’s Black Magic and Dead Man’s Train the Jack White comparisons return. The latter track is another that deceives to flatter, with the listener kept hanging on for some explosion of emotion that never quite surfaces despite all the musical pyrotechnics. Docked a point or two for the rather obvious Randy Newman comparison as well.
The album plays out with Stone adopting a falsetto vocal on the almost title track, the closest this collection comes to a Angus and Julia vibe. Tellingly, it’s one of the album’s most effective moments.
Call it a temporary diversion before Angus Stone returns to making music with his sister. There is much to admire here but the underlying feeling is that he makes much sweeter music with Julia.