Despite the exposure of his first solo album in more than a decade and his first nationwide tour in a pair of ’em, T-Bone Burnett cultivates mystery as a walking, talking contradiction. Boasting a recording career stretching back to the ’70s, he’s nonetheless best known for his movie scores, from O Brother, Where Art Thou? to Walk the Line. But that’s appropriate—his solo projects have also been built on carefully crafted re-creations of the past played up for drama; he might be the only roots rocker who finds it just as important to be inauthentic as authentic. As such, his latest album couldn’t have a more telling title: The True False Identity, a God-fearing noir tour of blue-state moralism.
No surprise, then, to see him decked out in a black suit with a white collar (crucifix not visible) for his Town Hall show. Even with his own career sidetracked for a while, he’d lost nothing of his warm, mellow croon or bandleader technique, corralling your typical, cozy singer-songwriter quartet into channeling Identity’s spooky vibes.
That dynamic was mostly thanks to guitarist Marc Ribot, who wailed through a wall of pedal effects, locking into intensive workouts with Burnett (“Zombieland”) or unleashing his own piercing solos (“Palestine, Texas,” “Humans From Earth”). Near the end, the two guitarists climaxed with the jazzy anti-Bush screed “Fear Country” and a Velvets rave-up on the anti-fundamentalist “Blinded by the Darkness”; Burnett dropped his ax for the doomy yet comical “Hollywood, Mecca of Movies,” reading his lyrics from a sheet like a sermon. And he still managed an impressive 20-minute tour of his oldies for the encore: Gone were the solos and guitar dialogues, as the songs struck a calmer tone, from heartbreaking to mesmerizing. And when Burnett said, “God bless you . . . see you next time,” it didn’t sound like he meant “on the other side.”