Butter Wouldn’t Melt – 1931: Album Review

Butter Wouldn’t Melt are folk duo Andrea Reid (dulcimer, whistles, vocals) and Nick Burfield (guitar and vocals). Their name is intriguing. It’s an old English saying that lives on in the American South: “butter wouldn’t even melt in their mouth”, referring to someone who is not quite as they appear.

There’s certainly a strong taste of Americana in 1931, the duo’s debut collection. It’s a set of memorable songs replete with harmonies and simple but gorgeous instrumentation. Across the tracks there are discernible elements of folk, country, blues and jazz.

The opening track, The Tunnel, has a rollicking beat accompanying ominous lyrics in the tradition of Nick Cave about carrying a shovel and “knocking on God’s door”. Reference to “southern clay” could easily invoke the American South, but this is a tale of kiwi gothic based in Wellington.

The next track slows the pace with beautiful guitar playing and Andrea singing One Last Lullaby with plaintively lyrics such as “God knows I’ve tried to find that twinkle in your eye”.  An end-of-relationship song with a hint of Lucinda Williams perhaps.

The importance of the track Eve of ’31 is signalled in the album title. The song recounts the “freight train coming through my town” that was the Hawke’s Bay earthquake. At that time, 256 people died despite the “sound of tui in the kowhai tree”. Here the sparse sound of the whistle is evocative of simpler times and a haunting echo of catastrophe. A superb song.

The whistle is also played to great effect on Tucson which Nick sings with memorable lyrics: “Better the hangman you know”. The Americana flavour of the song is reinforced by the line “the law is waiting for you at union station”. So too on Floating we hear ““River carry me down to where there are good times”.

Throughout, vocal lead duties are shared and harmonies pervade. All tracks are beautifully crafted. The album ends with Walk and Talk with Nick sounding like Arlo Guthrie as he implores “We can walk the stars are out tonight. We can make it if we walk”. Warm summer nights are evoked along with the sense of valuing the past highlighted by the album title.

Its timely that 1931’s release is so close to February 3rd, the anniversary of the Hawkes Bay earthquake. It’s too easy to forget the past when those who lived it are no longer with us.

It is also delightfully ironic, perhaps, that this fine collection’s release is in a season when butter does in fact melt. I’m sure many of our hearts will melt just a little as this superb album works its way into the year’s list of best new kiwi folk releases.

Robin Kearns

Marty Duda interviewed Butter Wouldn’t Melt via Zoom the other day. Watch HERE. Andrea and Nick explain how 1931 came to be the title of the album and how it’s based on various events in NZ history, including the Napier earthquake.

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Butter Wouldn't Melt