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Mick Turner: Brooding Portent And A Stormy Cataclysm

The Australian rock trio Dirty Three specializes in intensely emotive instrumentals led by charismatic violinist Warren Ellis, whose brooding sound evokes soul-stirring drama. But Ellis, a longtime collaborator with Nick Cave, is wisely careful to create breathing room for Dirty Three's remarkable supporting cast, as Jim White taps out skittishly arrhythmic drum patterns and guitarist Mick Turner helps lend the songs their mournful soul.

White and Turner are both prolific outside of the increasingly low-profile Dirty Three: They've supported Cat Power (most memorably on her album Moon Pix), while White gets prominent billing on a new album with singer Nina Nastasia; Turner frequently collaborates with Will Oldham when he's not painting or releasing solo albums, sometimes under the name Tren Brothers.

Turner's latest release, a collection of odds and ends titled Blue Trees, opens with "Swing (Parts 1 & 2)," a notably Dirty Three-esque epic that spans nearly 10 minutes. With a violin radiating unease — in this case, the part of Ellis is played by Jessica Billey — Turner plucks out a simple, dreamy hook as White helps ratchet up the tension over the course of several eerie minutes. By the time "Swing" hits its inevitable stormy cataclysm and subsequent retreat, Turner has fully demonstrated his gift for brooding portent, not to mention his role in crafting Dirty Three's own powerful soundscapes.

Listen to yesterday's 'Song of the Day.'

This column originally ran on July 9, 2007.

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Stephen Thompson is a writer, editor and reviewer for NPR Music, where he speaks into any microphone that will have him and appears as a frequent panelist on All Songs Considered. Since 2010, Thompson has been a fixture on the NPR roundtable podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour, which he created and developed with NPR correspondent Linda Holmes. In 2008, he and Bob Boilen created the NPR Music video series Tiny Desk Concerts, in which musicians perform at Boilen's desk. (To be more specific, Thompson had the idea, which took seconds, while Boilen created the series, which took years. Thompson will insist upon equal billing until the day he dies.)