Review by Steven Stone
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CD Stock Number: New West Records NW6037
A CD made up of personal and autobiographical songs can be tricky. The music can wind up meaning far more to their creator than they do to their audience. That's bad. Luckily for everyone, Stephen Bruton's latest release
Spirit World avoids this pitfall. His third release of original material combines pithy lyrics with an ample supply of infectious hooks and bridges.
Stephen Bruton spent much of his musical career as a guitar-slinger in other folk's bands. He's been Kris Kristofferson's lead guitarist for over 17 years as well as doing time with Bonnie Raitt and Bob Dylan. In 1993 Bruton put out his first solo album,
What It Is, followed two years later by Right On Time. In 1999
Nothing But The Truth came out on the New West label. All have received critical praise and helped Bruton develop a following of fans who appreciate his down-to-earth songs and ascendant guitar playing.
Spirit World continues his string of albums that showcase songs that elaborate his vision of the world.
Spirit World differs from Stephen Bruton's earlier releases in its production. It is more heavily effect-laden recording with occasional sound effects, synthesizers, vocal processing and more layers of sound than prior efforts. Rather than sounding overly theatrical, by and large the effects work quite nicely. On "Just a Dream" Bruton's voice is processed to sound like it's coming out of an old 78 disk for the first verse. On subsequent verses we get his full gritty baritone. Another musical difference between this and past efforts is the greater R&B influence on
Spirit World. Several cuts, including the title cut, have a groove that would make Joe Tex or Soloman Burke feel right at home.
Stephen Bruton is a great guitarist, but unlike many young hotshots his playing is not about super-licks but rather melody and texture. Even his lead on "Acre of Snakes," which is the hardest rocking cut on the album, is exuberant while coming at you sideways like a rattler in the shadows. If you want to hear a well-recorded acoustic guitar, listen to the pre-war Martin 0-17 on the opening of "Hate to Love."
While you probably won't hear any material from Spirit World on your local classic rock mega-station, that shouldn't stop you from searching for this album in your local CD emporium. Modern music that's conscious of its roots is a rare thing in our painfully ersatz world.
Spirit World is as real as music gets.
Sound Quality: 90