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T Bone Burnett is a unique, astonishingly prolific music producer, singer-songwriter, guitarist and soundtrack visionary. Renowned as a studio maven with a Midas touch, Burnett is known for lifting artists to their greatest heights, as he did with Raising Sand, the multiple Grammy-winning album by Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, as well as acclaimed albums by Los Lobos, the Wallflowers, B.B. King, and Elvis Costello. Burnett virtually invented “Americana” with his hugely successful roots-based soundtrack for the Coen Brothers film, O Brother, Where Art Thou? Outspoken in his contempt for the entertainment industry, Burnett has nevertheless received many of its highest honors, including Grammy Awards and an Academy Award.

T Bone Burnett offers the first critical appreciation of Burnett’s wide-ranging contributions to American music, his passionate advocacy for analog sound, and the striking contradictions that define his maverick artistry. Lloyd Sachs highlights all the important aspects of Burnett’s musical pursuits, from his early days as a member of Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue and his collaboration with the playwright Sam Shepard to the music he recently curated or composed for the TV shows Nashville and True Detective and his production of the all-star album Lost on the River: The New Basement Tapes. Sachs also underscores Burnett’s brilliance as a singer-songwriter in his own right. Going well beyond the labels “legendary” or “visionary” that usually accompany his name, T Bone Burnett reveals how this consummate music maker has exerted a powerful influence on American music and culture across four decades.

From the book:

“T Bone Burnett now carries such weight in the entertainment capitals of Hollywood and Nashville that the title ‘record producer’ can contain him no more than ‘film director’ could contain Orson Welles. His O Brother soundtrack altered the landscape of American music so markedly that it may well have affected our culture as significantly as Citizen Kane did.”

“I observed in T Bone the idea that you’re engaging something that’s already in play and you’re trying to abide it, very much like jumping into the ocean, and learning sort of how to swim or, on a good day, surf on top of it, but you didn’t create that momentum and you’re not going to control it . . .You’re going to learn to be grateful within it, and when you get together with musicians in a room, there’s a notion that there’s all kinds of ways that a song might work. Our job is to find what it is and be fully committed to it, which liberates you from thinking, did I guess right? The question is have we authentically engaged something that’s alive?” – Joe Henry

Available as book and audiobook (read by me) from Amazon and the usual alternatives.

Like the United States itself, the landscape of country music is spacious and varied. A country song can be about anything or anyone. It can be funny, sad, angry of inspiring. It can stomp like the blues or swing like jazz. A country singer can look like your favorite uncle or your kid sister, the head cheerleader or the class clown.” – From the introduction

From the American Music Milestones series.

Available from Amazon, Twenty-First Century Books (lernerbooks.com) or the author.

Edited by Mike Reed. I contributed several short profiles of Chicago jazz artists. (Published by Constellation Performing Arts.)

Published by the University of Texas Press, this anthology of articles from No Depression features my profile of Rosanne Cash.

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