T-Bone Burnett - The Criminal Under My Own Hat

Thursday 1st April 1993
T-Bone Burnett - The Criminal Under My Own Hat

STYLE: Roots/Acoustic
RATING 10 10 10 10 10 10 10 10 10 10
LABEL: Columbia

Reviewed by Peter Small

T-Bone Burnett, lonesome guitar strangler, Dylan sidesman, top producer (Costello, Cockburn, etc) Bono-collaborator, sometime Country artist but more usually maker of distinctive solo albums mixing laconic surrealism with songs of love and loss, aching with nostalgia and regret, sung in an understated, nasal, drawling Texan kind of way. This is possibly T-Bone's best ever album. At first it seems a bit incoherent. His two sides - quirked out guitar rock/film soundtrack pastiche and sparse, minimal country folk are both present and have each developed a casual grace of their own but sound so far apart that they might belong on different albums, albeit very excellent ones. Variety is certainly the spice of this one. "Tear This Building Down" is bone-crunching Bo Diddley guitar under the influence of Tom Waits whose lurch underpins the much gentler "It's Not Too Late" amidst plinking mandolin, sighing violin and slide guitar. "Humans From Earth" is a track that escaped from Truth Decay' only to wind up on the planet of bottleneck feedback (REM go there) where humans are trying to take over armed only with multi-channel TV, manifest destiny and a well-polished sales pitch. "You got nothing at all to fear/We think we're gonna like it here." Scary. "Primitives" is folkier again and has the atmosphere of night falling, with more of that gorgeous violin. It's one of Burnett's finest moments; a series of vivid, seemingly unconnected images by turns sinister, intense and magical. Similarly "Every Little Thing" explores the tortured country of dislocated relationships (Elvis Costello practically lives there) and Burnett takes it for his own. Simpler, bleaker and more universal than Costello, once upon a time Dylan sounded as concentrated as this. "Criminals" takes us into the confession booth for a wry, honest peak into the unreliable self. If it sounds like we're visiting a lot of dark places then wait till you hear "I Can Explain Everything", 1984-TV-politics-paranoia (I think) in two parts to a Frankenstein's monster soundtrack in the first case and blistering guitars in the second. Even more scary. Over the years Burnett has delivered an often weird narrative on the true state of the western world but you never get the feeling that he sits in judgement. Rather, it's sorrow that's expressed - sorrow at man's foolishness. Yet as a whole this is by no means a depressing listen. If Burnett is suspicious of everything including himself it's because only under grace is it safe to look and see things as they really are. The darkness is shot through with the light of faith, human love and God's mercy. "The atmosphere is lethal/But I will fear no evil." Even the apocalyptic vision of "Kill Switch" seems somehow to have more hope than dread in it. "It's not too late..." Vital.

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