Lou Ann Barton

Forbidden Tones

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In most cases, Forbidden Tones would be a recipe for disaster: After a disappointing major label stint with her Jerry Wexler-produced 1982 debut Old Enough, Austin-based R&B singer Lou Ann Barton came home, hooked up with a small local indie, and recorded a synthesizer-heavy, new wave-influenced pop album. It shouldn't work, but it does. Of course, this is largely due to Barton's tremendous voice -- she's one of the finest R&B singers of her generation -- but also to the better than average musicianship and largely excellent song selection. Barton, who produced the album herself, called in various highly regarded pals to help, including Los Angeles session legends Jerry Marotta, Dean Parks, and Larry Knetchel, and fellow Austinites like Fabulous Thunderbirds guitarist Jimmie Vaughan. The entirely pop song selection is interesting, featuring Beatles and Mink DeVille covers and tunes from AOR hit machines Will Jennings and Billy Steinberg. It's hard to tell if Barton is consciously trying to play up the non-R&B elements of her music in an attempt to seem more well-rounded as a performer or what, but -- whatever the motivation -- it sounds terrific. The album's highlight is an absolutely scorching version of John Hiatt's "Pink Bedroom," an acid portrait of a pregnant teenage trendoid that in Barton's hands maintains a certain level of sympathy even as its lyrics draw blood (literally, in the last verse). It sounds like Get Happy-era Elvis Costello & the Attractions fronted by a roadhouse belter, and it's one of the great lost tracks of the mid-'80s. Although nothing else on Forbidden Tones matches that song and the album's near-EP length makes it slightly frustrating, it's still an impressive comeback.

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