The Criminal Under My Own Hat

T-Bone Burnett

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The Criminal Under My Own Hat Review

by Mark Deming

On 1992's The Criminal Under My Own Hat, T-Bone Burnett seemed to be searching for a middle ground between his previous two albums, the bright, angular pop/rock of The Talking Animals and the spare, acoustic introspection of T-Bone Burnett. On this album, though, Burnett was willing to let these two sides of his musical personality display a greater influence upon one another; the acoustic numbers are more passionate and fuller sounding than on his previous efforts (often buoyed by Jerry Douglas on dobro and Mark O'Connor on violin), and the rockers have been peeled back a bit, giving the individual musicians a bit more room to move and letting the inner workings of the songs show. The operative philosophy appears to have been to allow the songs to shine though without excess gingerbread, and that's just what the material demanded; as always, Burnett's songs reveal his obsessions with the human failings of pride, fear, and greed, and he's willing to point the finger at himself as often as he finds shortcomings in others (though he saves his greatest wrath for the corrupt politicians and media savvy preachers attacked on "I Can Explain Everything," in which he suggests a little selective beheading might be a good idea -- as Burnett puts it, "the French knew how to lynch"). But unless his subjects happen to be George Bush or Jimmy Swaggart, Burnett finds room for compassion in nearly all of these songs, once again proving he's one of the few avowed Christians in pop music who seems to understand how tricky the nature of sin and forgiveness can be. Thoughtful, often witty, and boasting a stellar cast of fine musicians, The Criminal Under My Own Hat was easily T-Bone Burnett's strongest album since Proof Through the Night, and a rare pleasure for thinking music fans.

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