T Bone Burnett – The Invisible Light: Spells (Verve Forecast)
T Bone Burnett has created a wildly influential career as both a producer and singer/songwriter, helping to establish the foundation for modern Roots and Americana music. So, it comes as bit of a surprise to hear his latest – a collaboration with Jay Bellerose and Keefus Ciancia – an eclectic, experimental record mixing dance, electronica, trance and tribal drumming that sound little like Burnett’s past catalogue. Bellerose is a percussionist who has worked with everyone from Elton John and Leon Russell to Allen Toussaint and Ray LaMontagne, while composer/producer/musician Ciancia has worked with Nikka Costa and Cassandra Wilson, among others.
The album, The Invisible Light: Spells, is the second in a trilogy serving as a follow up to 2019’s The Invisible Light: Acoustic Space. And though certainly more challenging than many of Burnett’s previous solo albums, given repeated listens the album becomes more impressive with time. He describes the series as an experimental song cycle which explores the idea that society has been subject to a programming pandemic which is causing us to lose our ability to differentiate fact from fiction.
There is certainly a sterile feel to much of the record, thanks to the use of electronics over traditional instruments throughout, but the lyrics and vocals manage to tether the album to genuine emotions. Songs like beautiful, slow paced “Mother Cross (We Think We Think),” one of the album’s first singles, is one of the early stand-out tacks here, coming across as emotionally effecting in part thanks to Burnett’s deliberately soft vocals. It is easily one of his finest songs in more than a decade. The same song appears again as the ninth track, this time longer and even more haunting with ambient sounds filling in between the vocals. “A Better Day,” is almost as compelling coming across as a prayer of sorts delivered by futuristic monks. The repetitive “Casting A Spell” is among the most challenge songs here to get behind.
The Invisible Light: Spells is by far one of Burnett’s most experimental record yet and pretty far removed from the sound he has build a career around. But patience and repeated listens pay off for those willing to give the record a fair shake. http://tboneburnett.com