T Bone Burnett is a name that you may not recognize, even though I’m sure we’ve all heard something he has had a hand in creating. In the fourteen years since his last album, Burnett has been busy working on movie soundtracks and producing other artist’s albums. He has taken part in films such as Walk The Line, The Big Lebowski
and has won a Grammy for his production of the O Brother, Where Art Thou?
Not only involved with major motion pictures, Burnett has collaborated on projects with some major musicians including the Wallflowers, Elvis Costello, Roy Orbison and Tony Bennett. He has also teamed with the Coen brothers to form their own indie record label DMZ Records, which has so far released mostly soundtracks. Now T Bone has turned once again to his own music with a 40-track retrospective 20/20: The Essential T Bone Burnett and his new solo record The True False Identity.
T Bones latest album has a dark, moody feel to it, which is a sound I’m drawn to like a moth to a flame. After a sample listen of “Zombieland,” I was hooked and had to hear the rest of the CD. The twelve tracks are divided into two parts, six each, kind of like some bands would do in the old days with their vinyl L.P.s. The first six fall under the title “Art Of The State”, the next six “Poems Of The Evening.” The mood from the first to the second half doesn’t change much at all and the lyrics still ring with social and political sting; Burnett’s lyrics are filled with creative wordplay, so you have to listen and bring your own interpretations to the table.
“Zombieland” gets this disk off to a good start. With its heavy upright bass and slow drum thump, T Bone’s guitar slips in and out though the background rhythm, which is soaked in a New Orleans/Haitian voodoo vibe, complete with maracas and other shake and rattle instruments. As a matter of fact, the whole album has that mysterious vibe throughout.
“Palestine, Texas” is what sets this disk on fire for me. The drums kick out a steady rumble-drum-march sort of beat, which makes you want to stomp your feet, while the guitar soars and gets your head to thump in time with your foot. More steady bass work and this wonderful swirling sound that’ll make your head spin as you turn up the volume. Burnett’s rap-like vocal delivery of his Rat Pack inspired lyrics puts the icing on the cake and makes this track the one to watch.
With the heavy beat Burnett shows that older folks can still crank out some very solid catchy tunes, without being pretentious or sound forced. “Seven Times Hotter Than Fire” keeps the momentum going, with its loud, straightforward rocking sound. This track brings to mind the primal/noisy sound of the White Strips, making tracks two and three the power punch on this disk.
“There Would Be Hell To Pay” and “Every Time I Feel The Shift” slow the pace a little while highlighting Burnett’s songwriting abilities. In “Hell To Pay” we learn the fates of Curtis and Delia, another dark number that goes right to the heart. Whereas “Every Time I Feel The Shift,” focuses on the political issue of church and state, or rather faith and state and how the masses seem to forget what has gone before them in just a few years.
“I’m Going On A Long Journey Never To Return” has the most infectious and peppy feel to it, while its lyrical content remains on the darker side of relationships. T Bone’s straightforward, easygoing vocals are excellently showcased here. On the chorus, I’m reminded a little of Rodney Crowell.
The second half of the disc opens with “A Poem Of The Evening: Hollywood Mecca Of The Movies.” The guitar and bass slow down the tempo, allowing him to just speak the lyrics, while losing none of the intensity; T Bone’s piercing lyrics about the industry are delivered with a force that is intensified by the heavy slow drum thump behind him. On “Fear Country” Burnett’s vocals continue to cruise slow and low.
The way the instruments come together in the middle of the song add to Burnett’s lyrics, giving off this odd sense of a city or nation on fire, the drums, both brushed and heavily struck, light guitar and bass swirl all around you, creating an air of doom.
“Baby Don’t You Say You Love Me” picks up the pace and gets you jumping once again. The bass gets drawn out and has that stretched rubber band sound, while the drums slow-to-mid tempo thump drives the tune forward, blending together well with the distorted guitar sounds.
“Blinded By The Darkness” brings up the faith/state/crime issue once more and asks who should judge between the laws of God and the laws of man. “Shaken, Rattled And Rolled” closes the album on a slow, somber note about “it all slipping away from me” and being “lost and detached,” yet it is fitting end to this dark and moody disk.
On this CD you can hear T Bone Burnett’s influences, such as the Howlin’ Wolf and Bo Diddley. Some of the songs sound as if they could have been recorded by Alan Lomax sixty-odd years ago in the deep South by old sharecroppers. At the same time the sounds are very modern and if you listen you can hear slight nods to some of most creative bands of their day from Portishead to Love and Rockets.
Throw all these sounds into a Haitian Juju bag and shake it around, mix in some Dark Side Of The Moon wit and there you have the long-awaited new album by T Bone Burnett, The True False Identity. T Bone Burnett has put together a sound that is unique and enjoyable, adding three drummers on most of the tracks to the usual bass/guitar sound works masterfully. I for one am glad to have him back and I hope he continues to explore and push boundaries, turning out new records at a quicker pace