A CD of personal or autobiographical songs can be tricky. The music can wind up meaning far more to its creator than it does to its audience. That’s bad.
Luckily for everyone, Stephen Bruton’s Spirit World avoids this pitfall. His third release of original material combines pithy lyrics with an ample supply of infectious hooks and bridges.
Stephen Bruton spent much of his musical career as a guitarslinger in other folks’ bands. He’s been Kris Kristofferson’s lead guitarist for over 17 years, and has been doing time with Bonnie Raitt and Bob Dylan. In ’93, Bruton released his first solo album, What It Is, followed by Right On Time, and in ’99, Nothing But The Truth.
Spirit World differs in its production. It’s more effect-laden, but by and large the effects work quite nicely. On “Just a Dream,” Bruton’s voice is processed to sound like it’s coming off of an old 78 disc for the first verse. On subsequent verses, we get his full, gritty baritone.
Another difference between this and past efforts is the greater R&B influence. Several cuts, including the title cut, have a groove that’d make Joe Tex or Solomon Burke feel right at home.
Bruton is a great guitarist, but his playing is not about licks, but rather melody and texture. Even his lead on “Acre of Snakes,” the hardest rocking cut on the album, is exuberant while coming at you sideways like a rattler in the shadows. If you want to hear a well-recorded acoustic, listen to the pre-war Martin 0-17 on the opening of “Hate to Love.”
While you probably won’t hear any material from Spirit World on your local classic rock megastation, that shouldn’t stop you from searching for this album in your local CD emporium. Modern music that’s conscious of its roots is a rare thing in our painfully ersatz world.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s April ’02 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.