His solo debut, Tea & Sympathy, was a classic. His second album, Departures, was a disappointment. Civil Dusk finds Bernard Fanning back in top form.

Opening cut, Emerald Flame, has all the warmth that was largely lacking in Departures. It’s extraordinarily beautiful; one of the most exquisite album-openers you’ll ever hear. “Who could face this ruthless beauty?” Fanning asks. “You have shattered my defences.” Fortunately, the rest of the record matches its magic. This is an album about choices and consequences, filled with songs about love’s tenuous grip, where “God is making music, the Devil is making wine” and the singer is hoping that “only the good love survives.” Yep, no middle-aged contentment here; Fanning’s heart remains restless. He’s trying to unravel “all the knots and tangled ways,” wondering what it means to be a man. “What a man wants,” he concludes, “is seldom what he needs.”

More than two decades after Powderfinger’s first release, Fanning’s voice remains an instrument of beauty, capable of conveying words that hit you right in the heart, “a bleak and brutal sadness nobody could contrive.” Place Civil Duskalongside classics by Jackson Browne and Cat Stevens. It’s one of the year’s best.

Civil Dusk is out now via Dew Process/Universal.

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