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Burnett Returns, with a Purpose

He's produced hits for artists from Counting Crows to Elvis Costello. He's won Grammys for his production work, most notably on the multi-platinum soundtrack to O Brother, Where Art Thou? He's collaborated with Roy Orbison. His songs have been covered by everyone from Arlo Guthrie to Warren Zevon, and his musical career has been going full-tilt for decades. So what's a studio wizard like T Bone Burnett supposed to do to blow off 20+ years' worth of steam?

He goes back into the studio and ends a lengthy solo recording hiatus. On The True False Identity, his first collection of new material since 1992, Burnett isn't content to revisit his mid-'70s heyday as leader of the Alpha Band. Instead, he's creating his own alternate universe: one safe enough for the sort of sardonic songwriting that might get a guy branded unpatriotic in some circles. "Fear Country" is the sort of polemic that would come off as clumsy in lesser hands, but Burnett smartly juices the song with sinister, shuffling rhythms that somehow maintain the intensity while taking the edge off.

Though Burnett is every inch a Hollywood player these days, his roots show on The True False Identity. When he sings, "Cowboy with no cattle / warrior with no war / They don't make impostors like John Wayne anymore," he does it with the sort of easy contempt for pretense that has helped make him a dark-horse rock legend.

Listen to yesterday's 'Song of the Day.'

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David Brown
David Browne is a contributing editor of Rolling Stone and the author of Goodbye 20th Century: A Biography of Sonic Youth and Dream Brother: The Lives and Music of Jeff and Tim Buckley. His work has also appeared in The New York Times, The New Republic, Spin and other outlets. He is currently at work on Fire and Rain, a book that will track the lives and careers of The Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel, James Taylor and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young during the pivotal year of 1970.