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Alternative & Indie - Released April 12, 2019 | Verve Label Group


Pop - Released June 3, 2016 | Rhino - Warner Bros.

Proof Through the Night, T-Bone Burnett's first, and last, full-length release for Warner Bros., is an ambitious take on the state of the union and times, personified by various fallen characters. To some, his persistent morality may come across as being a bit cold or even self-righteous, but further investigation reveals an underlying empathy for the individuals, even if a cynicism for the times in which they live is expressed. And if Burnett may seem tough, don't think he excludes himself from the same scrutiny. In cuts such as "Pressure" and the record's best song, "Shut It Tight," he sees himself as "just an ordinary man," struggling with the same sorts of questions, temptations, and contradictions as, for instance, those of the protagonist in the record's centerpiece, "The Sixties." Musically, he serves his tales of "beautiful, wealthy, young divorcees," fallen women, and victims of times where we "keep all the bad, destroy all the good" on a bed of vibrant, guitar-driven rock & roll and folk, even lacing spoken parables such as "Fatally Beautiful," "The Sixties," and "Hefner and Disney" with subtle hooks and enticing nuances and choruses. Like T-Bone Burnett's other Warner Bros. release, Trap Door, Proof Through the Night is smart, tight, insightful, and unfortunately not yet available on CD. Guests include Pete Townsend, Mick Ronson, Richard Thompson, the Williams Brothers, and Ry Cooder. ~ Brett Hartenbach

Rock - Released May 2, 2008 | Nonesuch

While T Bone Burnett spent most of the '90s and the first years of the new millennium honing his craft as a producer, he cautiously re-emerged as a songwriter and recording artist with 2006's The True False Identity, which was his first new album in 14 years and prompted his first concert tour since 1986. A mere two years later, Burnett has returned with another new disc, Tooth of Crime, and while this project has long been in the works, it's still significant and welcome since it finally appeared at all. The ten songs on Tooth of Crime were originally created as accompaniment for a revised staging of Sam Shepard's play of the same name, which debuted in 1996 (one song, "Kill Zone," obviously dates back even farther, since the late Roy Orbison is credited as co-author), and while it's likely Burnett savored the opportunity to linger over this material before taking it into the studio, the performances here sound fresh and thoughtful -- like a good play -- while plenty of analysis and rehearsal went into refining Tooth of Crime's characters and narrative, there's still a vital humanity in the work that brings it all to life. The True False Identity was a poorly focused and lyrically scattershot work, but Tooth of Crime better captures Burnett's strongest suits as a songwriter, and if "The Rat Age," "Anything I Say Can and Will Be Used Against You," and "Here Come the Philistines" sound like broadsides, they're broadsides that communicate and express their rage and disgust with our culture's many wrong turns in an eloquent and bitterly witty fashion. Burnett is also able to find flashes of compassion in "Blind Man" and "Kill Zone," and as usual he's assembled an impressive team of collaborators who do superb work on this set. Burnett's former wife Sam Phillips brings her lovely, nuanced vocals to five songs and Marc Ribot's guitar work, at once melodic and sharply angled, is outstanding throughout, while fellow accompanists Jim Keltner, Greg Leisz, Jon Brion, and an imaginatively arranged horn section give this music a broad and atmospheric menace that well suits the songs. Tooth of Crime is a smart, absorbing, and beautifully disquieting collection of songs that could have come from no one else but T Bone Burnett, and it shows that one of America's best songwriters may be working at a very deliberate pace but he still has some remarkable things left to tell us. ~ Mark Deming

Pop/Rock - Released January 29, 2009 | Legacy Recordings

Following a brief brush with country music, T-Bone Burnett's seventh solo release, The Talking Animals, continues the studio rock he began in 1983 with Proof Through the Night. Burnett once again starts with basic rock, pop, and folk roots, which he wastes no time in subverting, adding assorted twists along the way. Along with co-producer and guitarist David Rhodes, he colors a foundation of steady rhythms driven by drummer Mickey Curry and bassist Tony Levin with affected and atmospheric guitars, as well as Mitchell Froom's various keyboards. One exception is the Van Dyke Parks-arranged "Image," with its swirling strings and one verse repeated in four different languages by Burnett and three guest vocalists (Cait O'Riordan, Rubén Blades, and Ludmilla). Here he sheds the bounds of the standard pop song format to create a piece that seems to have sprung from a Weill-Brecht musical. Lyrically, The Talking Animals, like his best work, can be scathing, searching, and surreal. Burnett explores uncertainty, longing, fear, lust, fantasy, greed, and eventually justice and mercy in his quest for "The Wild Truth" (the title of one of the album's best tracks). Often criticized for preaching, Burnett seems to ask as much of himself as he does of the cast of characters here, even allowing one of them to denounce him in the wonderful final cut, "The Strange Case of Frank Cash and the Morning Paper" (although it's T-Bone Burnett who gets the last word). Even with a few less than stellar songs, The Talking Animals is a strong, inspired record. Bono, Peter Case, and Tonio K. each co-write with Burnett, as well as lending support on vocals. ~ Brett Hartenbach

Pop/Rock - Released May 11, 2006 | DMZ - Columbia

As a musician and songwriter, T-Bone Burnett often manages the canny feat of seeming direct and elusive at the same time; there's an emotional power and clarity in his best music that's bracing, passionate, and scrupulously honest, but he's also capable of using his artifice to throw his messages in several directions at once, and it's sometimes difficult to tell just what his intended target is supposed to be (which is part of what makes his work fascinating in the first place). Usually, this gift works in Burnett's favor, but his aim seems less precise than in the past on The True False Identity, his first album since The Criminal Under My Own Hat in 1992. Since he last cut an album as a frontman, Burnett's star has risen considerably as a producer, having coordinated the multi-platinum soundtrack albums for O Brother, Where Art Thou? and Walk the Line as well as breakthrough projects for Counting Crows and the Wallflowers, and Burnett's estimable skills in the studio are the best thing about The True False Identity. Three drummers are credited in the liner notes (Carla Azar, Jay Bellerose, and Jim Keltner), and it often seems as if all three are playing at once, as a precisely arranged clatter runs throughout these 12 songs, with Dennis Crouch's double bass keeping the rhythms locked in and Marc Ribot's superb guitar work carrying the brunt of the melody and conjuring the aural atmosphere (enough so that he could probably demand co-star billing if he were of a mind). Musically, The True False Identity is fascinating and challenging stuff, but Burnett's songwriting is decidedly below par here; the album is full of the sort of clever wordplay one would expect from Burnett, but a number of the songs cover themes he's written about more effectively in the past (especially "Blinded by the Darkness" and "Hollywood Mecca of the Movies"), and while the themes may remain relevant, that doesn't make these salvos hit their targets any more cleanly. Too much of Burnett's writing on The True False Identity sounds like slogans rather than carefully thought-out verse, and while they're often great slogans ("If sin were dealt with by the laws of man, everybody would be in jail," "Cowboy with no cattle, warrior with no war/They don't make imposters like John Wayne anymore," "When you're out for revenge, dig two graves"), the result is a bunch of excellent moments that don't add up to a satisfying whole. From nearly anyone else, The True False Identity would be a striking and adventurous work, but given Burnett's body of work, there's no arguing he can do better, especially after a 14-year layoff, and this is a genuine disappointment from a artist of this caliber. ~ Mark Deming

Pop - Released June 3, 2016 | Rhino - Warner Bros.


Pop - Released May 16, 2006 | Columbia - Legacy

T-Bone Burnett is an artist whose reputation among critics, fellow musicians, and discerning record-buyers has cast a far longer shadow than his visibility among casual listeners for the better part of four decades. As a lyricist, Burnett has few peers; his sharply etched, intelligently witty, and very human meditations on love (both romantic and divine), compassion, corruption, and greed in our culture dig deeper than most other writers of his generation, but roll gracefully off the tongue with a grace that never quite belies their philosophical heft. Burnett's musical instincts are as sure as his lyrical sensibility (the fact Pete Townshend, Richard Thompson, David Hidalgo, Jim Keltner, Mick Ronson, Marc Ribot, and some guy called Bono have all guested on his records suggests he's well regarded by folks who know), and his gifts as a producer are such that he managed to turn bluegrass into a 21th century cultural phenomenon with the soundtrack to O Brother, Where Art Thou? Simply stated, this man deserves a wider audience, and Twenty Twenty: The Essential T-Bone Burnett is a compilation assembled with Burnett's participation designed to provide a one-stop introduction to his music. This is a noble enough idea, and there's no shortage of superb music included on this package -- 40 songs and nearly two and a half hours of music are crammed onto two CDs, with a thick accompanying booklet featuring a gushing profile from writer Bill Flanagan and notes on each tune from Burnett himself. The set is admirably comprehensive, featuring cuts from two of the three hard to find albums Burnett made with the Alpha Band in the mid-'70s, excellent selections from the five albums and two EPs he released between 1980 and 1992, and three unreleased cuts. (Completists will, of course, grumble that he chose not to include anything from his misbegotten debut album, 1972's The B-52 Band & the Fabulous Skylarks, whose opening cut, "We Have All Got a Past," certainly merits preservation.) However, for beginners this is almost too comprehensive to be useful -- the right 20 tunes would have been a superb introduction, but this seems a bit more like a poor man's box set that lost its third disc somewhere. Also, while many regard 1983's Proof Through the Night as Burnett's finest album, the LP has never been given a CD release, and the presence of seven cuts from that album on Twenty Twenty is doubtless a major selling point for longtime fans. However, five of those seven songs have been extensively overhauled by Burnett, with dramatically different remixes (hope you didn't like the drumming on "The Murder Weapon," since it's been wiped away), new overdubs, new vocal tracks, and in the case of "Hula Hoop" some new lyrics, leaving listeners to debate if this represents an artist's prerogative or messing with history (T-Bone, shake hands with George Lucas). Twenty Twenty: The Essential T-Bone Burnett certainly confirms the depth and breadth of Burnett's talent, but it also plays out as too much of a good thing. ~ Mark Deming

Rock - Released January 1, 2009 | Geffen* Records

Released as a one-off project for MCA's briefly revived country subsidiary Dot Records, T-Bone Burnett's self-titled fourth album is the most austere and uncluttered project he's released to date, quite a switch from the high-concept folk-pop of his best-known work. Recorded and mixed live to two track in four days, T-Bone Burnett is subtle but strong, with a warm, natural acoustic sound that's gentle but surprisingly full-bodied, and the production is the perfect match for the songs, especially on the beautiful "River of Love," which is among Burnett's finest moments on record. Backed by a superb acoustic band (including David Hidalgo, Jerry Douglas, Byron Berline, and Jerry Scheff), Burnett's vocals are in superb form here, and while the album is a bit short on top-shelf T-Bone originals (half the album's songs are either covers or collaborations), what is here is compelling and listenable. T-Bone Burnett in many ways sounds like a casual project sandwiched between Burnett's "real" albums, but one listen confirms it's still the work of a major talent. ~ Mark Deming

Alternative & Indie - Released January 25, 2019 | Verve Label Group


Alternative & Indie - Released March 22, 2019 | Verve Label Group