There's still not quite a full album's worth of ideas here.
Jon Lusk 2008-05-02
Joseph Henry Burnett is better known by his stage name of 'T Bone' and as a highly sought after producer of landmark albums such as Robert Plant and Alison Krauss's Raising Sand as well as for his work on the film soundtracks for O Brother, Where Art Thou? and Walk the Line. He was most active as a solo artist in the 1980s, after which producing seemed to take up most of his time. Burnett’s trademarks are cinematic production values, his sardonic, nasal, speak-singing vocals (which suggest a misanthropic John Lennon) an eclectic and inventive approach to American roots music and lyrics of withering cynicism and at times surreal force.
Tooth of Crime is the second record he's made since returning to solo work in 2006. Most of this new disc was actually written for a 1996 staging of Sam Shepard's play Tooth Of Crime (Second Chance), but shelved when Burnett decided it ''didn't seem like an album''.
The lightweight ditty The Slowdown is the only piece that approaches conventional ‘musical’ fare. The rest of the material is considerably darker, and when compared with his 1980 debut Truth Decay, not as melodic or accessible. One exception is the rather swooning Kill Zone, which was co-written with Roy Orbison and sounds like it. Anything I Say Can And Will Be Used Against You is the other obvious highlight, which comes across like a slow, twisted Tom Waits rewrite of the theme tune from the TV series, Get Smart.
The whole thing seethes with bluesy menace, greatly aided by Darrel Leonard's often-dissonant brass arrangements, Marc Ribot's atmospheric surf guitar twanging (think Twin Peaks) and Jim Keltner's masterfully lopsided drums. Sam Phillips croons alongside Burnett on Dope Island, but any romantic solace is undermined by the post-apocalyptic imagery of the lyrics, which teeter on the brink of melodrama here and on The Rat Age. It's this, and the emphasis on atmospherics rather than memorable tunes – especially on the last three tracks – that make it something to endure rather than enjoy, and also fuels the feeling that maybe there's still not quite a full album’s worth of ideas here.