Picks and Pans Review: The Criminal Under My Own Hat

updated 09/14/1992 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/14/1992 01:00AM

T Bone Burnett

Burnett is best known for his producing handiwork with folks like Elvis Costello, Los Lobos and Sam Phillips, Burnett's own wife. Don't be surprised if this spare but emotionally fulfilling effort gives Burnett wider recognition as a writer.

What's remarkable is that while Burnett happens to be in one cranky mood here, it's still possible to walk away not feeling morose. "It's Not Too Late," for example, portends all kinds of apocalyptic disasters. But while Burnett offers the warning that "The ocean rolls like thunder/ The tempest pulls us under," Mark O'Connor's poignant violin and Roy Huskey Jr.'s slap bass create the feel of a jug band rocking away on a summer's eve. It's hard not to tap your toes to this strangely giddy and hopeful tune as Burnett sings, "As broken structures rust/ False idols turn to dust/ All lies in ashes/ And it's not too late."

Why is it not? Because the bottom line for the 44-year-old native Missourian is personal accountability. Burnett is honest enough to stare into the mirror and admit that even he is capable of mistreating others. On the devil-inside-us-all rocker "Criminals," he sings, "We speak of these men as aliens/ From some forbidden race/...But there's one man I must arrest/...One man that I must make confess/...His heart is filled with envy/ And revenge and greed/ His heart is filled with nothing/ His heart is filled with need." Guess who this dangerous fellow turns out to be: "The criminal under my own hat."

Amid the barrage of overproduced studio fodder that passes for music these days, Burnett's acoustically driven style may get short shrift on the charts. But his fans—and anyone else willing to listen—won't walk away hungry. There's plenty of meal on this T Bone. (Columbia)"

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