Just a passing observation. I happened to be listening to T-Bone Burnett’s 2006 solo album, The True False Identity, and a thought occurred to me again, something I wondered about when I first heard the album.
Burnett doesn’t put out a lot of solo albums and is better known — nay, revered — for his work as a producer and as the go-to guy for all things roots-music related. He has been involved in projects from the soundtrack to O Brother Where Art Thou, the current Jeff Bridges film, Crazy Heart, to be being the brains behind the stupendously successful Robert Plant/Alison Krauss collaboration, Raising Sand. And that only scratches the surface of his list of credits.
Apart from a deep knowledge of the music, he seems to have a knack for choosing the right song for the right moment. Plant, for one, credits Burnett entirely for the song choices on the album he did with Krauss and speaks in hushed tones about the man’s musical sensibilities.
Burnett also, if this solo album is anything to go by, also writes pretty good songs, plays a mean bit of guitar, and is a genuinely good producer. I love the sound of this album, not just its overall sonic quality, but the individual sounds he gets from the instruments, especially the guitars. It is top-drawer stuff.
Here’s the thing though: he sings the songs himself and he is a really crap singer. Well, maybe not really crap, but pretty average. Sure, there is a sort of ambience he gets, an almost spoken-word approach that he takes that in one sense kinda works. But I pretty much spend the whole album wishing he’d got someone else in to do the vocals. If golf is a good walk ruined, this is a good album buggered up by a second-rate singer.
So I was wondering: how did this come to be? How does a man with superlative taste and musical abilities, allow such a key component of the album to be handled by a sub-par performer? Is it just ego? Does he not quite get how average his voice is? Was there no-one there to tell the emperor he cain’t sing?
I have no idea, but it’s a shame.
What’s weird is that you can’t imagine him letting it happen with any other instrument. You can’t imagine he would let a second-rate bassist play on the album or an equally crappy guitarist or drummer anywhere near the studio. But with the vocals? Not so discerning. Let’s just call a blind spot.
It’s a shame. This could’ve been a fantastic album.
The song below, which comes from The True False Identity, will give you some idea, though I’d add, it is one of the better vocal performances on the album.