Burnett returns to recording and challenges listeners


By Barry Gilbert
St. Louis Post-Dispatch


May 23, 2006

'The True False Identity'
T Bone Burnett
Grade: B-

Fans who associate T Bone Burnett's name only with the soundtracks to movies such as "O Brother, Where Art Thou?," "Cold River" and "Walk the Line" might be taken aback by "The True False Identity."

After all, it's the first time in 14 years that the eclectic singer, songwriter, guitarist, producer and music historian has stepped out as a solo performer. As a reminder, Burnett's label, DMZ/Columbia is simultaneously releasing the 40-track "Twenty Twenty: The Essential T Bone Burnett," which reaches back to 1977.

The long recording layoff changed little in the approach of Burnett, who was born in St. Louis but grew up in Texas. Influences such as the old-timey acoustic music of "O Brother," the mysticism and atmospherics of "Cold River" and the more mainstream country of the Johnny Cash biopic are here, along with the blues and even a touch of reggae.

But in Burnett's hands, these sounds, mixed with some electronic wizardry, become rootsy, earthy and almost tangible, bracing the artist's spiritual, often political lyrics.

While the music is consistently interesting and inventive, the vocals are a challenge. A few of the songs are spoken word and-or repetitive, such as "Palestine, Texas," "Hollywood Mecca of the Movies," "Every Time I Feel the Shift" and "Blinded by the Darkness" ("Do we want to inject the concept of sin into the Constitution? Is this really necessary . . . Shouldn't sin be left to the laws of God?").

Music and lyrics join successfully on "I'm Going On A Long Journey Never to Return," an uptempo bookend to Ralph Stanley's haunting, a capella "O Death," but the accessibility of this track is the exception.

"The True False Identity" is an ambitious work by a consummate musician, but it is not for casual listeners.