Picks and Pans Review: The Talking Animals

updated 03/28/1988 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/28/1988 AT 01:00 AM EST

T Bone Burnett

In the past few years, Burnett (not to be confused with the musical Burnette family of Johnny and Billy) has become known more as a producer for Los Lobos, Elvis Costello and others than as an artist in his own right. This album will not change that reputation. With co-producer David Rhodes, Burnett has fashioned some intriguing arrangements and folk-rock textures. T Bone is also a pretty fair songwriter, though his compositions are usually more challenging than pretty. He tends to err on the side of precious, as on the multilingual Image (English, Spanish, French and Russian spoken here) with its très Paris arrangement. But he certainly has his clever moments, as on Monkey Dance: "She has a will of iron/ He reads her Keats and Byron/ Till she can go no further/ He starts to read her Thurber." Mostly he brings to mind a less elliptical version of Bob Dylan, with whom he played in the days of Rolling Thunder, circa 1975. Burnett's The Strange Case of Frank Cash and the Morning Paper (co-written with Tonio K.) strongly evokes Dylan's The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest. Stacked this way, Burnett's talents sound like they mount up to an attractive package. And well they might. The hedge is that T Bone has a voice like a contentious weasel. Still, if nothing else, Burnett won't insult your intelligence. If you prefer your pop not ground down into pre-digested bites, The Talking Animals might fit the bill. (Columbia)

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