Returning after a fourteen year self-imposed hiatus from recording music in which he concentrated on composing and producing – including winning a Grammy for his production work on the soundtrack for O Brother, Where Art Thou? – T Bone Burnett has managed to simultaneously release two albums, each with a divergently distinct sound and purpose. Twenty Twenty: The Essential T Bone Burnett is a two disc compilation which according to T Bone Burnett attempts to – and I’m paraphrasing here – to end an earlier chapter of his recording career. However, Burnett’s latest release The True False Identity is by far the strangest, most sonically challenging album he’s ever released as it conjures up the most frighteningly realistic vision of post 9/11 America you will ever hear; it’s as if life and art imitate and then influence each other to capture a particular time and place. And with Burnett’s lyrics running the gamut from the sublime, ultra-literate, to the tragicomic, to the religiously prophetic, further cements Burnett’s attempt to conjure up the current paranoia and frenzy.
Sonically, as I’ve mentioned, this album is challenging – many songs have an off kilter syncopation that should remind audiophiles of the sonic experiments of John Coltrane and McCoy Tyner on their Village Vanguard albums. Similarly, to the Coltrane albums, the musicians will sometimes sound as if they’re all playing at different speeds, and yet it makes a certain inherent, primal sense. The guitar work of Burnett and Ribot can often vary from the gentler, acoustic strumming in songs such as “Poem of the Evening,” and “Shaken, Rattled and Rolled” to the muggy, fuzzy power chords of “Palestine, Texas,” “Every Time I Feel the Shift” and “Blinded by the Darkness.” By this experimental sort of sound, Burnett not only manages to create an album that doesn’t sound like his previous work but an album that doesn’t sound like any other in recent memory.