Tooth of the Crime is like an on-again off-again relationship for T-Bone Burnett. The reputed producer and side-man first wrote the tracks for Sam Shepard’s play of the same name in 1996, but the haunted romance didn’t end there. Rather, it was revisited again and again, a tempest that Burnett wouldn’t lay to rest.
Several of the songs were used for the play, but Burnett has given new life to other unused tracks to make Tooth of the Crime a whole. The results play out like a cinematic blockbuster, expertly concocted with eccentric twists and a chord of dramatic tension that runs throughout. “Anything I Say Can And Will Be Used Against Me” is spoken word traipsing above a big band lurch, the biting line “You’re my friend, but I’m going to kill you” furthering the menacing vibe. “Dope Island” and “Blind Man” pair Burnett with Sam Phillips on vocals, the former unsettling the latter haunting, but both adding alluring textures to the score that contorts continually. “Sweet Lullaby,” the album closer, ultimately offers gentle hope through acoustic blues leanings.
T-Bone Burnett is one of the most inventive musicians playing today, to which Tooth of the Crime is a testament. Originally composed as a score, it listens like a soundtrack, and a grandiose one at that. However, like a cinematic opus, Tooth of the Crime is an investment, a submission into another world that most are only willing to take on occasion. For T-Bone Burnett, this is a blessing and a curse.
Tooth of the Crime is out now on Nonesuch.