Disc Reviews: Jakob Dylan and T Bone Burnett

Armed with just an acoustic guitar and sparse accompaniment, Dylan reinvents himself as a seasoned folkie troubadour.

Jakob Dylan 88 224 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Jakob Dylan 88 224
(photo credit: Courtesy)
JAKOB DYLAN Seeing Things (NMC) It's taken five decent-to-excellent albums with The Wallflowers for Jakob Dylan to finally find his real voice - as his father's son. Armed with just an acoustic guitar, sparse accompaniment and leave-him-alone production by Rick Rubin, Dylan reinvents himself as a seasoned folkie troubadour on his solo debut Seeing Things. In essence, the songs sound like his Wallflower tunes stripped to their bare basics, but with that spareness, there's an even greater sense of depth in the delicate melodies and in the lyrics about war, the state of the world and humanity and survival. "Valley of the Low Sun" sets the bar, an exquisite song for the ages about a life's journey, full of allegory and verbiage, a lot like someone else we know. Close behind is just about everything else, from "On Up the Mountain" and "Everybody Pays as They Go" to "War is Kind" and "This End of the Telescope." With a voice husky and rich in timbre, sometimes reminiscent of Bruce Springsteen's solo material, Dylan references past masters of the country and blues genre like Hank Williams and Johnny Cash. The countryish shuffles of "All Day and All Night" and "Something Good This Way Comes" lighten up the mood and contribute to the timeless feel that Dylan said he was trying to create in the performances - songs that have always been around and will always be there. After a couple of decades as a rock star, Dylan finally sounds like he's at home - both unafraid to embrace his heritage and forging his own road - with one eye to the future and the other to the past. T BONE BURNETT Tooth of Crime (Hatav Hashmini) One of the inspirations for Jakob Dylan's Seeing Things was a tour he spent singing acoustic Wallflowers songs opening up for his friend T Bone Burnett. The godfather of the American roots music revival, Burnett is a true musical eccentric - a member of Bob Dylan's Rolling Thunder Revue, producer of standout rock albums by Marshall Crenshaw, Los Lobos and The Wallflowers(!), and Americana music like the Grammy-winning soundtrack to O Brother Where Art Thou and Robert Plant and Allison Krauss's collaboration Raising Sand. He's also worked sporadically as an acclaimed solo artist, releasing consistently literate, pleasing and challenging albums (his 1983 EP Trap Door is still one of my all-time favorites). Tooth of Crime falls more on the challenging end of his spectrum. Based on a play by Sam Shepherd of the same name, the album is, in Burnett's words, a theater piece in which the characters sing. Featuring standout session men Marc Ribot on guitar and Jim Keltner on drums, Tooth of Crime's twangy songs range from the sinister Bo Diddley opener "Anything I Say Can and Will Be Used Against You" and the jazzy "The Slowdown" to the dreamy pop of "Kill Zone," sounding like a slightly unfocused Shins, and "Dope Island," a somewhat bizarre duet with his former wife, singer Sam Phillips. Decidedly avant garde, it may take a while to understand the plot and narrative of Tooth of Crime. I've got no idea what's going on, but that doesn't stop me from listening to the album as often as I can.