Having successfully collaborated with Dave Dobbyn on Fireboy, McLennan repeated the pattern with his third album, Horsebreaker Star, recorded in Athens, GA. His key musical coworker and producer of choice this time: John Keane, with credits ranging from R.E.M. and the Indigo Girls to Vic Chesnutt and Widespread Panic. Besides handling the recording, Keane contributes everything from guitars to xylophone. There's definitely more of a country/Southern rock bent to Horsebreaker Star at parts, though advantageously it's something that suggests itself in the arrangements and performances rather than dominating the songs. For all the occasional steel guitar and fiddle parts (the short, enjoyable instrumental "Race Day Rag" could almost be a slice of wistful Beach Boys Americana thanks to Keane's banjo), McLennan isn't certainly reinventing himself as a Deep South denizen. His ear for focused, sharp lyrical portraits of life and love, paired with his ever-striking crisp singing style, continues to lead the way, while the occasional backing vocals from Syd Straw provide a great complement for that approach. Whether it's the alternating between tension and perversely soothing choruses on "I'll Call You Wild" and the string-touched, wry music-industry portrait (possibly of the Go-Betweens itself) "Coming Up for Air," or more revved-up songs like "Dropping You," there's plenty to love. Other worthy numbers include the enjoyably low-key fire of "Put You Down," one of the more Go-Betweens-like songs on the album, the warm surge and drama of "Open My Eyes," which deserved to be this album's hit single so very much, and the acoustic guitar/voice winner "From My Lips." In a discographical curiosity, the American version of the album subtracts some six tracks (allegedly for being "too country" in style, strangely enough) while adding Fireboy's admittedly excellent "Lighting Fires." Better to just find Fireboy on its own and to hunt down the original double-disc version if possible.
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AllMusic Review by Ned Raggett