Billy Bob Thornton

Private Radio

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Like many actors-turned-musicians, many listeners will look at Billy Bob Thornton's debut album, Private Radio, with a smug bewildered condescension, wondering what gives him the right to cut a record. The thing is, Billy Bob, like many other actors that also cut records, played in bands long before he appeared in films. It is true that his celebrity is part of the reason he was given a chance to record, but that long history of playing in bar bands serves him well on Private Radio, giving his voice a ruggedness and musicianship a welcome supplement. Of course, it helps that he's working with producer/co-writer Marty Stuart and has a team of studio veterans supporting him, giving the record a pleasing professional musicality. Private Radio is still Billy Bob's show, and he comes across like a Southern version of Tom Waits crossed with a Byrds-addicted Greg Allman, at times grumbling beat poetry over sparse acoustic guitars, at times slyly delivering roadhouse ravers, folk laments, and anthemic ballads. Sure, it's possible to imagine legions of listeners chortling at lines like "Angelina what's come between us?/Could it be the magic and mystery of love?" and there are other moments that sorta fall flat, either in their earnestness or their poetic jumble. Still, this is a pretty good record all the same, better than most Americana records of the late '90s, thanks in no small part to a terrific stretch of songs mid-record ("Walk of Shame," the rollicking "Smoking in Bed," "Your Blue Shadow," and "That Mountain"), and a good cover of Hank Williams' "Lost Highway."

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