T Bone Burnett breaks 14 years of silence as a solo artist
By Andy Argyrakis
From the pages of The Daily Journal
Some know him for his travels in the 1970s with Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue, others revere his work as a solo artist, while many are most familiar with his role as a producer thanks to a slew of groundbreaking projects and collaborations. T Bone Burnett is indeed a man of many hats in the truest sense of the term, making creative splashes wherever he may roam and never settling for anything less than excellence. Although the versatile mastermind has never strayed away from the spotlight, it has been nearly a decade and a half since his last solo album “Criminal Under My Own Hat.” Throughout that time Burnett has been busy composing and producing the soundtrack to “O Brother, Where Art Thou?,” executive producing the “Down From the Mountain” concert documentary and reprising that title for the tunes behind the Johnny Cash biopic “Walk the Line.” Thankfully though he’s put pen back to paper and dug out the guitar for a brand new studio disc “The True False Identity” and double disc retrospective “Twenty/Twenty The Essential T Bone Burnett” (both of which released May 16 on Columbia Records). Here’s more from the man himself in a recent chat with The Daily Journal just before hitching up the buses with Jakob Dylan (Bob’s son and front man for The Wallflowers) for his first tour in almost twenty years.
RETURN TO THE ROAD: I don’t miss anything about the road exactly because I never did it that much. I think I’m looking most forward to seeing what sound we can make in these rooms and seeing what kind of boom we create. The band is going to be the band on this new record “The True False Identity.”
PERCUSSION POWER: When we were doing the record, one of the images that inspired us was thinking of people in an audience being beads in a maraca. Our hope in terms of sound was to shake up the whole room. We were also working with the premise that we’ve heard all the beats at this point and so I asked the guys to rumble- not to play any beats- but boom and rumble coming at you in a different way.
ROOM TO WRITE: You have to jack out when you write and disorient yourself from any of your routines. You have to be right where you are at the time and put yourself in a very [private] place. I just retreated to a [tent in the woods] and didn’t even take a guitar with me. I wrote a couple hundred pages worth of lyrics, probably more, and it was all scatter shot. Certain stuff stands out at different times and you start finding threads. When you’re all done, you go back and look at it. You don’t have to sort out at the time and it’s better just to keep going. Once you’re under water, you don’t just want to be bobbing up to the top.
“TWENTY TWENTY” TIME: Albums are all documents of periods of time whether that be six months or two years. I looked at this as an album of a twenty year cycle and went through it the way I’d sequence any album. There are hundreds of things to think about like: What’s the story being told? Where do we start? How do we end? What sounds the best?
RARE REMEMBRANCES: “Bon Temps Rouler” ends the record. It’s an old Creole tune from the 50s that Ann Savoy showed me and I love that piece. I first recorded it when I started and it has this rumble we were talking about earlier. There’s also a new version we cut of “Song To a Dead Man” with Norman Blake on acoustic guitar. It’s real funky and sounds like it was done on a wire recorder. I love stuff that doesn’t sound right.
DYLAN DECISION: I’ve known [Jakob] since he was a kid and he’s got one of the most honest, really true voices. I’m happy to have him come out and hang with us and am honored that he would.
WHAT ABOUT BOB?: I doubt [he’ll make a cameo] because he’s on the road all the time too. I don’t think this will be a tour with any special guests sitting in because I’ve been waiting to do something myself. Here and there someone may pop up on guitar, like maybe Jakob, but not any kind of real deal to it. We’ll be in a sound laboratory in a way that’s just us and the audience. We want to see what kind of sounds we can make with this stuff.
BEST “O BROTHER” MOMENT: I expected it to do well and find a place because there were a lot of incredibly good people collaborating. One of the indelible memories is when Ralph Stanley sang “O Death” in the studio. We’d been doing it for two or three hours with a banjo, but then had him do it acapella one time and it was one of those completely awake moments in my life where everyone in the room was alive to what was happening.
COOLEST COLLABORATION: Ralph Stanley is good in a world of easy duplication of talents. He’s true north when it comes to storytelling and writing music of our country.
There’s Elvis Costello, who’s a great friend and collaborator, and I’d say the same of Coen Brothers.
LOVED “WALK THE LINE”: I can say Reese Witherspoon and Joaquin Phoenix and I bonded around the idea of making sure we were doing everything we could do to make the movie a credit to John and June and their world. We wanted to make the music in the movie as honest as we could and I think we worked really hard to that end. Phoenix did something no one in the world could do, which was evoke John Cash as powerfully and as emotionally and as truly. Reese’s performance was also extraordinary. Johnny will be remembered in a 100 or 200 years no matter what products come out.
# # #