Billy Bob Thornton

Beautiful Door

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Beautiful Door is actor Billy Bob Thornton's fourth recording, and here he leaves the concepts, social and political ideas, and American mythologies behind for something more personal. Thornton's previous albums have all been idiosyncratic, with moments of something approaching genius, and others far more frustrating and head-scratching in their excesses. On 2005's Hobo, the most conceptual of all, he at least pared the sound back and got the germ of how a real band should sound, and there were the seeds of ideas that are also articulated in Beautiful Door's 12 songs -- all written with guitarist Brad Davis -- albeit the mirror image of them in that their themes are far more personal and reflective. As on its predecessor, the band is small here. Thornton plays drums (rudimentarily) and percussion, Davis is on guitars, and veteran bassist Leland Sklar and organist Ted Andreadis are here as well. Graham Nash guests, contributing backing vocals to three tracks, including the title. Musically, this feels something akin to a sleepy Dave Alvin record. There's nothing wrong with sleepy. In fact, in Thornton's case it works for him. He and his band stroll along the edges of roots rock and country and meld them seamlessly. He's terribly concerned with his lyrics carrying weight, and that you know exactly how he feels about things, but for all the excess, there is a songwriter in here who has begun to emerge in earnest. These tunes feel like memory flashes captured on aging Polaroid photographs, whether they are extended reflections on years past ("In the Day"), road songs about women ("I Gotta Grow Up" and "Carnival Girl"), personal reminiscences about the changes in the American landscape ("In the Day"), or ruminations on loss, which outnumber the rest. In fact, through these simple, gently rocking tunes, Thornton's sense of emotions, loneliness, and regret is profound. It haunts him like the ghostly, blurred picture of him on the back of the CD booklet. It's all sepia, details flit by, and what's left is the scar on the heart. An entire album of this may wear on you if you're not ready or in the mood for it, but that doesn't mean it's a bad record -- far from it. It's one for the nighttime hours, those that either immediately precede troubled sleep, or directly commence when waking from a dream with near fatal existential panic in your chest. Thornton seems to speak to those lonely moments without whining about them. This isn't everybody's cup of poison to be sure, but for those drawn to the wee-small-hours reflections of Alvin, Tom Russell, or Malcolm Holcombe, this is for you.

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