There are a lot of reasons to like the Dirty Three—the evocative mood their songs call up, the grandeur of their crescendos, Warren Ellis's rustic and beautiful violin. I like them for all those reasons too; those are the things I enjoy about the trio when I'm not thinking too hard on it, just letting their songs fill the air around me.
I like them for a different reason when I take the time to concentrate on their music. And that reason is Mick Turner. Turner is an unassuming player and most definitely not the member of the Dirty Three who is in the spotlight. But train your ears on his playing and you'll hear a style that describes few others.
Their latest track, "Rising Below," from the forthcoming Toward the Low Sun, is a good example. It hardly features Turner, but that's why it's such a good illustration of Turner's role in the group. It's easy to be taken with Ellis's overlapping violin lines or Jim White's shuffling, spirited drumming. But underneath it all is Turner. The sound of the group is all the more unique for Turner's taking on a role that might otherwise be held by a bassist, establishing a bridge between the drummer and the soloist and giving them both something to latch onto. Unlike a bass player locking into a drummer's kick, though, Turner's fragile, erratic playing mirrors White's skittering snare.
More wonderous to me are the actual notes Turner sprinkles out. He plays as if his fingers refuse to actually stay on the fretboard for more than a second at a time. He doesn't strum or pick his strings so much as let stray notes spill out of his guitar. The order in which the sounds come out of his guitar seems incidental but not accidental. Every note fits, no matter how he places them.