A strong review for Lloyd Sachs’ “T Bone Burnett: A Life in Pursuit” from Glide Magazine

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‘T BONE BURNETT A LIFE IN PURSUIT’ BY LLOYD SACHS (BOOK REVIEW)

December 1, 2016 by Doug Collette

Lloyd Sachs adopts just the right tone in his book on the life and times of eccentric genius T Bone Burnett. Writing A Life in Pursuit, the author remains ever cognizant of his subject’s idiosyncratic tendencies in both his personal life and his work. And, also knowing full well Burnett’s penchant for high-minded philosophical declarations, the author maintains a healthy detachment from the topics under discussion even with regular insertions of his own his well-considered opinions.

As a result Sachs’ book flows from the very start and maintains an infectious readable quality virtually throughout. His plain-spoken language acts as a catalyst to personal and artistic elements in discussion, directly or indirectly about Burnett, such as his taste(s) in recordings of his own and other artists. Thus, Sachs generates an indiscernibly fast pace through T Bone’s formative years, where he was equally enamored of roots music and the Beatles, to apocryphal phases right up to nearly modern times. Burnett’s period in Bob Dylan’s ‘Rolling Thunder Review, for instance, comes along before the reader realizes how much ground Sachs has covered.

There is a stall of sorts, however, as the author moves through the busy period where Burnett alternates efforts to generate momentum as a recording artist under his own name while producing others to essentially pay the bills. As with his own records, particularly early in his career, T Bone often opts to collaborate with those like (eventual) wife Sam Phillips or the singular Joe Henry, both of whom who are either on the outs with a label or choosing an obviously esoteric artistic path in an almost willful decision to maintain aesthetic purity at the sacrifice of commercial success. Kindred spirits indeed!

During this segment of A Life in Pursuit, the title takes on a new meaning or at least lends itself to a more broad interpretation. It’s almost as if the phrase reverses itself and, instead of T- Bone Burnett in pursuit, he is in fact the one being pursued, whether by his own personal demons, the hell-hounds of blues lore or, as he might himself consider, predators in the form of business leaders within the industries he chooses to work. It’s perhaps a reflection of Lloyd Sachs’ affinity with his subject that his immersion (and subsequent dissections) of Burnett’s work, such as The True False Identity, mirrors his subject’s devotion to his art and craft. But an extended interval of chapters, perhaps not coincidentally, appearing around “Hit Man,” consists of little more than record reviews, albeit discerning ones: Sachs is notably up to date in not only placing the albums in proper artistic perspective, but he also takes time to notes which titles have been reissued on CD since their original vinyl release.

By the time A Life in Pursuit is over, it might be difficult for more than a few readers to find T Bone Burnett a sympathetic figure. His doubts about his own worth as a recording artist sound hollow in the wake of his prodigious success as a producer–the soundtrack to O Brother Where Art Thou? Is just the first in a string of them–while his his disdain for the marketplace sounds particularly disingenuous when he engages in a bitter dismissal of the internet as a means of circulating music; there’s no doubting his well-schooled value judgment of sound quality, but it’s somewhat telling, particularly in the divergent perceptions of him as a collaborator, that his own pursuit of high fidelity in the form of CODE, comes to a quick and abrupt end.

At this juncture in the book, via lofty statements about the nature of art in society vis a vis commerce, Lloyd Sachs almost, but not quite, becomes an apologist for T Bone In fact, as he recounts Burnett’s series cinematic collaborations, it’s almost as if the writer is campaigning on behalf of his subject. With just cursory review of the cumulative effect of all he’s recounted of Burnett’s work to this point, neither he nor T Bone have anything to be embarrassed about—in purely objective terms, quite the contrary.

So, bringing in a string of references to movie history and literary allusions seems, at best, a stretch of the objectivity of this pedigreed contributor to Rolling Stone and Downbeat, among other highly-regarded publications. At worst, it’s a stance of pure pretension, but that’s no greater a blemish than some minor factual errors within the two-hundred sixty pages: the thought arises, again, that the author’s mirroring his subject’s eclectic interests and passions. In that light, Lloyd Sachs’ take Burnett’s work on soundtracks might rightly be interpreted as the latter’s own self-styled movie cum music projects, where he is producer, director and participant, with a cast of his own choosing and a script molded from his choices of material.

Very early in A Life in Pursuit, Lloyd Sachs mentions of Kris Kristofferson as means of introducing musician/composer Stephen Bruton as a long-time creative partner of T Bone Burnett’s and by the time the author concludes his account of his subject’s ‘non-career,’ some lines from another song by the writer of “Me and Bobby McGee,” (“The Pilgrim – Chapter 33,”) seem to accurately encapsulate the subject of this contemporary biography: ‘he’s a walking contradiction… partly truth and partly fiction…’ Whether or not T Bone Burnett ever resolves (at least some of) his contradictions, beginning with full authorization to Sachs for an updated version of this book, would seem to be fodder ripe for an updated edition.

“T Bone Burnett: A Life in Pursuit” highlighted on Shelf Awareness

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IMAGE OF THE DAY: TALKING T BONE

Bookends and Beginnings, Evanston, Ill., hosted author and music critic Lloyd Sachs (r.) in conversation with Henry Carrigan, contributor to the American roots music magazine No Depression, about Sachs’s new book, T Bone Burnett: A Life in Pursuit (University of Texas Press).

Chicago’s WGN and WDCB are the latest radio outlets to join in on the discussion of Lloyd Sachs’ acclaimed “T Bone Burnett: A Life in Pursuit”

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Author Lloyd Sachs discussed what MOJO (in a four-star review) called a “definitive” book about legendary producer and songwriter Burnett, with WGN’s Dave Hoekstra on “Nocturnal Journal” and WDCB’s Brian O’Keefe on “The Arts Section.”

Go here to listen to “Nocturnal Journal.”

Go here to listen to “The Arts Section.”

 

“A much-needed critical biography of an influential artist by a superior critic of the genre” – Library Journal, starred review of Lloyd Sachs’ “T Bone Burnett: A Life in Pursuit”

book coverReviews don’t come any better than this:

“Record producer, singer/songwriter, and film and television soundtrack designer -Burnett’s work has influenced and in some ways defined American music in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Longtime popular music critic Sachs, whose outstanding work in the alt-country magazine No Depression deserves its own volume, tells Burnett’s story and deftly analyzes his output in this work. The account is filled with such -Burnett milestones as his Grammy Award-winning soundtrack for the Coen Brothers film O Brother, Where Art Thou? and collaborations with Jakob Dylan, Bob Dylan, Los Lobos, Sam Phillips, and Counting Crows. Written without Burnett’s participation, the book is nonetheless authoritative. Appendixes annotating his frequent collaborators and a select discography are invaluable. Sachs’s coverage of Burnett’s film and television work details his methods and astutely evaluates his achievements in these media. A particular highlight is the author’s consideration of his subject’s contributions to the HBO series True Detective. VERDICT A much-needed critical biography of an influential artist by a superior critic of the genre.-John Frank, Los Angeles P.L.

Lloyd Sachs discusses “T Bone Burnett: A Life in Pursuit” on Texas Public Radio and Chicago station WLUW

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Here the entirety of Sachs’ conversation with “Texas Matters” host David Martin Davies, which originated on KSTX San Antonio, here

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Sachs also talked T Bone with host Michael James on “Live from the Heartland,” which aired on Loyola University’s WLUW.

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“It might be argued that Burnett is nearly as important in American culture as the Boss” – Arkansas Democrat Gazette

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On Books
Life in Pursuit: Author’s take on T Bone Burnett
By Philip Martin

It used to be, in the ’60s, when people said that all [rock ‘n’ roll] music sounded alike, they were wrong. But now, when people say that, they’re right. That’s because it all comes out of a big machine, and everybody uses the same machine.”
— T Bone Burnett, April 2001

Well, I got the Bruce Springsteen book.

It’s, um, really good: generous, humane and honest. The guy can write. He’s sounded the human heart. It’s exactly what I expected it to be.

But it’s No. 1 on the best-seller lists and has been heavily reviewed already. I’d rather take my time and read it. Other people have used words I’d probably use. “Solemn” is one. “Tender” is another. That’s what Richard Ford said — and that’s why I try never to read reviews before I write my own.

Besides, sometimes it’s wise to counter-program. Not nearly as many people have heard of Lloyd Sachs’ new book T Bone Burnett: A Life in Pursuit (University of Texas, $26.95) as Springsteen’s Born to Run, but it might be argued that Burnett is nearly as important in American culture as the Boss.

A case can be made for Burnett as one of the founders of the Americana movement and he has produced some of the most compelling and profound (yes, profound) pop music of the past 40 years. He may be best known for his work in producing the soundtrack for the Coen brothers’ 2000 film O Brother, Where Art Thou? (which is widely credited with restarting the American roots music movement). Just as impressively he helped the Coens capture the feeling of the pre-Bob Dylan Greenwich Village folk scene in 2013’s Inside Llewyn Davis.

He’s also a tremendously effective singer-songwriter, although he has never achieved the commercial success that some (including me) predicted for him. Over the past 35 years I’ve talked to Burnett a few times and have written plenty about him; I consider myself well-versed in his story. But Sachs’ book — which covers Burnett’s career from his days as a 17-year-old with his own studio in Fort Worth (where he was one of the co-conspirators behind the Legendary Stardust Cowboy) to his recent work for HBO and his problems with digitalized music — told me plenty I didn’t know.

So I contacted the Chicago-based Sachs to have a conversation about the book.

Q. While you address this in the book, can you talk about why you thought this book was necessary?

A. For starters, no one previously had written a book about one of the major figures in American popular culture of the past few decades. I also was increasingly impatient with the large percentage of self-professed fans who were unaware of his distinguished work as a singer and songwriter. I mean, when a club owner friend in Chicago who butters his bread with roots artists confessed to me that he didn’t know T Bone had recorded his own music, I knew there was at least one compelling reason to write the book.

Q. A friend of mine knew and recorded with “Terry” Burnett in Fort Worth in the ’60s. He says that the young T Bone was a completely formed and nonimitative musician by the time he was 19 and that he had no illusions about the marketplace or pop music’s role in it. (Apparently he used to lecture starry-eyed idealists.) This wised-up character seems a little at odds with the 68-year-old T Bone, who expresses an unalloyed belief in the transformative power of art. (“He was so much older then …”) Does this seem to jibe with the Burnett you know?

A. I don’t see those two outlooks/approaches as opposing, and neither does Burnett. Like Alfred Hitchcock, to name a visionary in another field, Burnett recognizes that the lines that get drawn between “art” and “entertainment” are flimsy. The greatest art can appeal to the commercial masses and the greatest entertainment can rise to the level of art. Burnett got into trouble when he compromised and in some ways overcalculated his work in the studio to make it more salable — only to achieve no such commercial breakthroughs. As discussed in the book, he was far more successful making other artists, the ones he produced, successful.

Q. Around the time O Brother was coming out, Burnett told me he was moving away from producing in order to concentrate on his own songwriting and recording. While he never obtained the kind of breakthrough success as a performer that he sought, I wonder if he hasn’t actually been more influential behind the scenes; there are literally dozens of records I think of as T Bone Burnett records.

A. Yeah, I have never thought of [2007’s] Raising Sand as a Robert Plant-Alison Krauss album; without his contribution it would have been a far different album, and likely a less remarkable and successful one. As great a talent as [Burnett’s ex-wife, singer] Sam Phillips is, obviously her contribution on her [Virgin] recordings is inseparable from his. Who knows? Maybe she would have been more commercially successful with another producer, but likely at the cost of several masterpieces.

It’s hard to gauge influence. I can say with great certainty that Joe Henry would not have become the distinguished producer he is had he not been mentored by Burnett. Henry himself says as much. But there are any number of artists who have done their best work with Burnett and chosen not to work with him again — or, as in the case of BoDeans, learned their lesson and attempted to return to the T Bone fold. You know, if Diana Krall was so happy with the album she did with him, why did she subsequently run into the arms of one of the slickest Hollywood producers for her follow-up record?

What Burnett represented and represents still to many so-called roots artists is the gold standard of authenticity. The last thing they’re going to get working with him is compromised or taken out of their natural element. Some of his experiments don’t translate into commercial success, but for artists like Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Gillian Welch, pushing the envelope with him in the studio was a valuable and enriching experience.

Q. I’ve only seen T Bone play live once — he played a show with Phillips at Hendrix College and it was tremendous, though under-rehearsed; there was some confusion over who would sing what parts. But I’ve heard conflicting reports — he’s been described as a terrific showman and as suffering from stage fright.

A. Burnett is never comfortable appearing before the public in any guise. And that excess in his early performances likely was a matter of overcompensating for his shyness. But as he has matured, he has thrived as a performer in the company of musicians he’s close to and as the leader of a rock band. He just played the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in San Francisco, which he does every year. I would love to have seen those sets.

Q. Production aside — and I rather like the way it sounds, possibly because it’s what I heard first — Burnett’s 1983 album Proof Through the Night is at least a great collection of great songs. “Shut It Tight,” “Fatally Beautiful” and “Baby Fall Down” are just wonderful and even something like “Hefner and Disney” still manages to hold my interest 33 years on. I honestly think it’s one of the best records of the ’80s — and I don’t really understand why he seems to dislike it so much. You touch on this in the book, but can you expand on it?

A. Who can explain why certain artists are perpetually dissatisfied with efforts other people embrace, the way you and others embraced Proof? Why does Spielberg feel the need to tweak, re-edit or add footage to films that were perfectly fine in their original theatrical release? In this case, a lot of his dissatisfaction may owe to the fact that he didn’t have control of the finished work and was at the mercy of studio executives who had no clue what was best for the music. Keep in mind that the album started out as more of an acoustic live-in-the-studio effort along the lines of his 1986 Dot album T Bone Burnett, which some people hold above all others. In the end, you have to go with what T Bone himself said about the album, that he was unhappy with the production, particularly certain cloying echo-ey effects.

Q. Reading the book, I got the feeling Burnett was sitting right beside you — not interfering, and being helpful to a point — as the book unspooled. It must have been strange not to interview him for the project. While I’ve always believed you should trust the work more than the artist, do you have any feeling as to why he preferred to demur? He’s a fascinating talker, and as far as I know, he has never been microphone shy.

A. Yeah, that’s the $64,000 question. Having interviewed him several times and been in his company on other occasions, I can attest to his warmth and charm. I have to believe what Sam said: that he is skittish taking a backward view of his life and work at a time when he has got so much yet to accomplish and a diminishing amount of time to do it.

Q. The concept of pursuit — as reflected in the book’s title — is really wonderful. Can you delineate the difference between a pursuit and a career?

A. I wouldn’t presume to speak for Burnett, but the way I view it is that a pursuit is open and endless and continually [self-] renewing, true to the Zen concept mentioned in the introduction. You exist in the moment, in constant pursuit of truth and other high ideals. Whereas a career is defined by events that largely exist in the past and are viewed in terms that don’t have anything to do with the spiritual/creative flow that produced them.

Q. Much of the book deals with the seismic shifting of options for those trying to be heard and possibly sell their music in today’s market. Are there any new successful models Burnett’s observed in his research and experience?

A. On a panel at this year’s AmericanaFest, he said he’s working on a new storage system that will provide a breakthrough alternative to analog and digital; he wasn’t yet at liberty to discuss, he said.

He has a new video series coming on Spotify, an interesting wrinkle considering his warnings to young musicians to avoid the internet like the plague. He reserves his animosity for YouTube and Google.

Source: Life in Pursuit: Author’s take on T Bone Burnett

Talking T Bone on XRT: A Podcast Pursuit

Lloyd Sachs, onetime voice of “Sachs and the Cinema” on Chicago’s long-running alternative rock station WXRT, joined old pals Marty Lennartz and Bill Cochran to discuss his book “T Bone Burnett: A Life in Pursuit.” You can hear the chat in its entirety here:

Source: Talking T Bone Burnett’s Vast Influence On XRT’s Sound

Lloyd Sachs’ “T Bone Burnett: A Life in Pursuit” reviewed in the Wall Street Journal

For those who aren’t affected by the Journal’s pay wall, go here

And for those who aren’t bothered by an imperfect scan:

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How great to get such great coverage whatever platform it takes you to!

A Spotified T Bone playlist, devised by Lloyd Sachs to accompany his definitive book, “T Bone Burnett: A Life in Pursuit”

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For those who enjoyed the all-time best (and only?) T Bone Burnett cover band’s versions of songs by and associated with him Monday night at the Hideout, and for others interested in diving into his work as a singer, songwriter and producer, here’s an annotated playlist I put together – loaded up on Spotify for your listening pleasure!

Touring T Bone: A personal playlist primer

It’s well neigh impossible these days to come across a mention of T Bone Burnett that doesn’t begin with “great” or “visionary” or “legendary.” No argument here. Unlike so many of the artists hoisted in today’s 24-hour Twitter cycle – how about that reissue by the great Milli Vanilli? – Burnett fully deserves the encomiums.

But it’s not just as a record producer – the role for which he is best known – that the Texas native deserves to be considered in such rarified terms. To gaze back at his 40-plus years in the business is to be amazed not only by all the breakthrough albums that bear his signature, but also all his achievements as a singer and songwriter in his own right, as a sound artist and soundtrack auteur, as a theater composer and curator for projects big and small. As I proclaim in my book, T Bone Burnett: A Life in Pursuit, “record producer” can no more contain Burnett than “film director” could Orson Welles.

Can I get an “icon”?

It is fascinating to consider the different roles this man of many dimensions has played – and the contradictory sides of his personality that have frequently defined those roles. In calling attention to his multiple identities as an artist and individual, the chapter titles of A Life in Pursuit provide a great template for a playlist of songs he has recorded, produced or programmed. Feel free to hit shuffle. As someone raised on Texas blues, Burnett would take that as a compliment.

“Street in Paris” – Whistler, Chaucer, Detroit and Greenhill (from the chapter Sound Citizen): Written by young Burnett, who produced it at his own Sound City studio in Fort Worth, this melodramatic art-rock oddity by an ad hoc, fake-named band of young locals sounds like a psychedelic hangover from the Legendary Stardust Cowboy’s infamous T Bone production “Paralyzed.” Featured on The Unwritten Works of Geoffrey, Etc., a 1968 release regarded by some as a cult classic.

“We Have All Got a Past” – J. Henry Burnett (from The Outsider): On his first album, The B-52s and the Fabulous Skylarks, recorded in Los Angeles with a bunch of Texas homeboys, Burnett engaged in a full spectrum of styles. This rollicking, gospel-driven tune reflects his debt to the Leon Russell/Mad Dogs and Englishman school of blue-eyed soul.

“Hula Hoop” – T Bone Burnett (from Player in the Band): As a guitarist in Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue, the largely unknown Burnett got to perform a song or two of his own each night. “Hula Hoop” (here taken from his 1983 album, Proof Through the Night) introduced him as an edgy upstart taking aim at the corporate world.

“You Angel You” – The Alpha Band (from Alpha Male): Best known for its fractious/righteous Christian statements, this collective trio of Rolling Thunder alumni played it sweet and straight on this lovely Dylan cover. With guest Ringo Starr on drums and harmony vocal, the song is transformed into a fetching rockabilly number.

“Boomerang” – T Bone Burnett (from Spiritual Gumshoe): There are deeper cuts on Truth Decay, regarded as Burnett’s real solo debut, but this Alpha Band leftover is the track with which I went all in on T Bone. The hookiest item in his catalog, it boasts a skewed narrative in which “thieves and debutants talked in italics.”

“Still the Night” – BoDeans (from Master Builder). This little Wisconsin band that could, and did, was one of the groups with which Burnett became known for his Midas Touch as a producer. “Still the Night,” from their 1986 debut, Love & Hope & Sex & Dreams, frames their quirky vocals and electro-acoustic sound to perfection.

“The People’s Limousine” – The Coward Brothers (from Co-Conspirator): A bonus attraction on Elvis Costello’s 1984 solo tour, for which Burnett was opening act, long-lost sibs Howard and Henry (Elvis and T Bone) ripped though old favorites like George Jones’ “Ragged But Right” and Bobby Charles’ “Tennessee Blues.” This boisterous original, their only single, is about a girl in crystal heels who becomes involved in some serious foreign intrigue.

“River of Love” – T Bone Burnett (from Seeker): This acoustic gem from Burnett’s self-titled 1986 album is as close to perfection as he has come as a writer and singer in espousing deep religious belief and the ongoing struggles required to attain it.

“Baby I Can’t Please You” – Sam Phillips (from Svengali): Martinis and Bikinis is a high point of Burnett’s work with Phillips, and this ravishing number, with its unshakable melody and seductive raga effects, is one of the reasons why. I inexplicably mistitled it in the book. Deep apologies to the artists.

“Image” – T Bone Burnett (from Imagist): Four people, each speaking a different language, repeat the same lines about their images letting each other down. I have gone from actively disliking this experiment to finding it oddly fascinating to considering it an essential piece of the T Bone puzzle. Van Dyke’s beautiful tango arrangement helps a lot.

In Dreams” – Roy Orbison (from Native Son): Orbison’s career underwent a major revival after David Lynch prominently featured this 1963 classic in Blue Velvet and Burnett produced a new version of it for an album of Orbison remakes. The Big O lives!

“Make the World Go Away” – Joe Henry (from Mentor): The only non-original on Henry’s mercurial masterpiece, Shuffletown, this Hank Cochran tune reflects this singular artist’s appreciation of American song monuments in much the same way Burnett’s performances of “You Are My Sunshine” do.

“Great Big Love” – Bruce Cockburn (from Hit Man): Who knew how bright and breezy Cockburn could be? Bringing out the high-minded Canadian’s melodic gift in shimmering settings, Burnett revealed a side of the artist that hadn’t been heard before, without compromising his identity.

“Over You” – T Bone Burnett (from Reluctant Artist): You wouldn’t know from this infectious, slap-happy tune, featured on The Criminal Under My Own Hat, that Burnett had to be talked into making the first new record of his own in several years. This song, featuring bassist Roy Huskey, Jr. perfectly negotiates resignation and rebirth, hope and despair.

“6th Avenue Heartache” – The Wallflowers (from Starmaker): I had no idea who this song was by when I first heard it in a noisy bar, only that it completely commandeered my senses with its urgency, infectiousness and pop romanticism. It remains Jakob Dylan’s finest moment.

“Strike a Match” – Cassandra Wilson (from Company Man): Burnett introduced this song in a theatrical performance with Sam Shepard. The sublime Wilson’s version, heard on her Burnett-produced Thunderbird and his soundtrack for Wim Wenders’ Don’t Come Knocking, takes the song even deeper into the realm of mystery: “Strike a match so I can see if I’ve been down here before/Where is the floor/What is it for?”

“Hard Time Killing Floor Blues” – Chris Thomas King (from Coen Brother): The young blues star recorded this unheralded song from O Brother, Where Art Thou? live on set on a movie ranch near Los Angeles. “You can hear how loud the crickets are,” Burnett remarked. Was that a result of real-time engineering or a message from beyond from Buddy Holly and the boys?

“Trouble of this World” – Bill Landford and the Landfordaires (from Soundtrack Auteur): Thanks to The Ladykillers, the Coen Brothers’ remake of the beloved British comedy, there was a run on Google by people wanting to know who the heck these gorgeous harmonizers were. This 1949 recording plays a big role on Burnett’s soundtrack, both on its own and as remix-ready source material.

“The Fan Dance” – Sam Phillips (from Minimalist): Making her first record in several years, Phillips took a sparer approach with her words and music. Burnett, making a key advance in the development of his stripped-down, bottom-rich sound, was with her every understated step of the way.

“Earlier Baghdad (The Bounce)” – T Bone Burnett (from Lead Actor): A darkly glowing, blues-based reverie, narrated by a broken man who “lost sight of the light.” One of Burnett’s most affecting songs, it is seamlessly woven into his most convulsive album, The True False Identity.

“Fortune Teller” – Robert Plant and Alison Krauss (from Alchemist): There are so many great tunes on Raising Sand, and so little space to praise them, so let’s use this occasion to pay tribute to the ’60s hit “Fortune Teller,” which the late Allen Toussaint wrote under the name Naomi Neville. Everything about Burnett’s swampy treatment of it is on edge. It’s a sensory sensation.

“Throw It Away” – Betty Buckley (from Jazz Man): The long-belated reunion of Burnett and his old Fort Worth pal made for a great story, but who could have expected the Broadway diva to hit such poignant depths? Her rendering of this song by the late, great Abbey Lincoln is a vote in favor of certifying it as a new jazz standard.

“See That My Grave is Kept Clean” – B.B. King (from Blues Man): On what proved to be the blues legend’s final album, One Kind Favor, Burnett returned him to stellar songs and arrangements from early in his career. On this Blind Lemon Jefferson tune, King responds with a combination of raw truth and joyful energy that leaves you looking forward, not back.

“Voyeur” – Elton John (from Senior Advisor): In coaxing the British superstar to return to his acoustic roots on The Diving Board (2013), Burnett scored one of his great triumphs as a producer. This wistful ballad, a blend of tender vocal, rhapsodic piano lines and subtle atmospherics, is one of the album’s highlights.

“If I Die Sudden” – John Mellencamp (from Audio Activist): On which the Hoosier hero, recorded by Burnett in the most skeletal settings, traffics in the ghostly visions of Son House, Woody Guthrie and Dock Boggs. Burnett’s freakish electric guitar provides the kind of jolt an acid-tripping boom box would give to a graveyard in the middle of night.

“Please Mr. Kennedy” – Justin Timberlake, Oscar Isaac and Adam Driver (from Dylanologist): Burnett characterized this track, written by him and several others, as “a takeoff on a parody of a satire.” So why of all the music to come out of Inside Llewyn Davis, the Coens’ paen to the ’60s folk scene, does it stand out? Credit its cracked wordplay, manic energy and devil-may-care spirit.

“Far From Any Road” – The Handsome Family (from Televisionary): This rambunctious, dark-tinged tune had been out for several years when Burnett tapped it as the theme for True Detective, HBO’s hit serial killer series. It struck such a chord that many viewers had to be restrained from tossing their screens through the window when a Leonard Cohen song replaced it for season two.

“She’s Got You” – Rhiannon Giddens (from Back to the Futurist): On her fantastic debut album, “Tomorrow is My Turn,” this wondrous singer offered a personal survey of songs and styles that had strongly influenced her. With its lived-in emotion and easy authority, this interpretation of the Patsy Cline hit is a true revelation.

 

The best (and only?) T Bone Burnett cover band does wonders with his songs at Hideout release party for Lloyd Sachs’ definitive “T Bone Burnett: A Life in Pursuit”

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Oh, what a night!

Celebrating the release of Lloyd Sachs’ “T Bone Burnett: A Life in Pursuit,” the first book about the Texas-born legend, a band of distinguished leaders including Steve Dawson, Kelly Hogan, Nora O’Connor, John Abbey and Gerald Dowd raised the roof of Chicago’s Hideout with beautiful and fascinating covers of songs written, recorded and/or produced by Burnett. Choice tunes by Sam Phillips, Freedy Johnston and Elvis Costello held serve with great originals by T Bone.

lloyd-hideoutReading from the book, Sachs highlighted Burnett’s work with Robert Plant and Alison Krauss on the classic, “Raising Sand.”

“If Plant and Krauss had any second thoughts about softening or departing from their signature styles to level the interpretive playing field,” Sachs read, “the relaxed atmosphere Burnett created in the studio enabled them to get past their doubts. Both were rewarded by finding sides of their talents of which they themselves had perhaps been unaware.”

“That was fun as hell,” posted Hogan. Couldn’t agree more.