Nonesuch Records releases T Bone Burnett's Tooth of Crime, on May 6, 2008. The album - completed fresh off Burnett's acclaimed work as producer and arranger of the hugely successful Robert Plant/Allison Krauss collaboration Raising Sand -- is an outgrowth of a long-running collaboration with playwright Sam Shepard that began with the 1996 musical staging of his noted play Tooth of Crime (Second Dance) in New York. The songs are distillations of modern conflicts and personal drama in a modern hyper-reality. Following Burnett's highly praised 2006 album The True False Identity - itself a dynamic return to action after a 14-year hiatus as a recording artist - this new collection is the realization of years of work to fully capture the inspiration of Shepard's forceful ideas.
"Tooth of Crime is a prophetic play that Sam first wrote in 1972, and it takes place in a time very much like now," Burnett explains. "It's a time when there are zones of fame that flare up and people can become incredibly famous in their own zone and nobody else can know it. And then the zone completely disappears, but the famous person doesn't realize it because you can't even find the zone anymore. You have to hook up a toaster to a television to a microwave to a piano - very post-apocalyptic. That was the initial inspiration for the album." Tooth of Crime is not a cast album from the play-which isn't a musical, but rather a theater piece in which characters sing. The album's song cycle is a distinct entity.
"I recorded a bunch of things for the play," Burnett says. "Then the play kept changing. Only six or seven of the tunes ended up in the play and it didn't seem like an album. But I just kept going back and working on things and seeing what I could do. And then I found a couple of pieces, just things that had come up that I almost had forgotten I'd recorded, and I was able to finish a couple of those tunes that hadn't ended up in the play. Of course, I was doing a lot of other projects, so it ended up being a long process to just getting a grip on what this album was going to be."
Ultimately he was able to use the innate strengths of Tooth of Crime to form the foundation of an album that is a complete work unto itself. "These days one of the hardest things to do is find a frame at all to make the songs hang together," he says. "It's a great advantage working in this context with an incredible intellect like Sam Shepard.
Working with what has become a solid musical team anchored by Marc Ribot (Tom Waits, Elvis Costello, John Zorn) and drummer Jim Keltner (John Lennon, George Harrison, Eric Clapton, etc.), Burnett crafted the sound of Tooth of Crime. It's an approach that has evolved over decades of distinctive work for Burnett, both as a recording artist in his own right and in guiding an elite roster of artists and movie music projects: The 2000 Grammy album of the year O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack; the Oscar-nominated "The Scarlet Tide" for the film Cold Mountain (for which he also produced the soundtrack); albums by Bob Dylan, Elvis Costello, Los Lobos, Roy Orbison, Ralph Stanley, Tony Bennett and k.d. lang; and recent projects such as Raising Sand, the re-imagining of the Beatles catalog in Across the Universe, and the music for the Johnny Cash biopic Walk The Line, are just highlights of a resume that stands as one of the most productive, distinctive, and lauded production careers of modern music.