Saturday, November 2, 2019


The name of Stephen Bruton may be known to fewer than those who have heard his songs, and, if and when then, possibly when sung by others rather than by him. I was sort of amazed he hasn't previously had a shout here, given the love of roots oriented musics: blues, folk, country, in the many and various scribes who have written for the site over the past decade and more. If you like a bit of Willie or Kris Kristofferson, the chances are that you are familiar with his work. With a style that effortlessly bridges the oeuvres above, it is when he plays his own that the class really outs, aided and abetted by his lifetime perfecting his precision on guitar. Perhaps it was the experiences of working as Kristofferson's right hand man for nigh on twenty years, ahead of a similar role with Bonnie Raitt, that imbued him with such apparent ease with a song. And I can't help but feel, had he not died from the throat cancer that beset his last few years, that he would have become better known. But he did, in 2009, aged 60.

Spirit World is both the name of the featured track, and of the record it comes from, his fourth solo release, in 2002, on the prestigious New West record label, always a reliable home for quality americana and roots. Especially if you happen, like Bruton, you come from Texas. If you like a loping swagger down dusty byways, perhaps stopping to slake your thirst in a beat-up roadhouse, this is probably music you will like, and his other records have more of the same. Live? Well, his would be the sort of band booked to actually play that roadhouse. Here's the same song in a live setting.

Something I didn't know about him was his involvement with the soundtrack of Crazy Heart, the award winning film about a down and not quite out country singer, wedded to the bottle, ahead of being rescued by the love of a good woman. So far, so cliche, except it wasn't quite that simple, the good woman being a music journalist and happy ever after remaining, arguably, elusive. But, with Jeff Bridges, who blagged a deserved oscar for his portrayal, and Maggie Gyllenhaal, any tawdry sentiment is transcended. Based on a book, itself based loosely on singer Hank Thompson, many of the set pieces in the film are embellished with the real life experiences, on the road, of Bruton, himself a recovering alcoholic. (And, even if this weren't true, the character Deacon Clayborn, in the TV series Nashville, actually was certainly based upon him.) The job of the soundtrack was given to T.Bone Burnett, his first call being then to enrol his life-long buddy Bruton to the task, despite already his cancer biting hard. The bulk of new material for the movie was written by the pair of them, although Bruton was not to see the official release. He died at Burnett's home, so closely were they working, even right up to the end, this being six months ahead of the opening.( Here is one hell of an article, telling his tale so much better than can I. And please note the comments around his becoming, on attaining sobriety, a tireless rescuer of livers, rather than any lasting pitiful drunk.)

Somebody Else/Jeff Bridges (Crazy Heart soundtrack)

Somebody Else(instrumental)/Stephen Bruton (Crazy Heart soundtrack)

There are a host of similar artists I love, dependable names in, usually, second billing, or third, to more lauded souls, yet providing the ballast that boilers the bigger name. Sometimes the accolades come, often they don't. I am thinking of Sonny Landreth and the late Neal Casal, journeymen players and singers, often overlooked in the chase for a bigger story. Do yourself a favour. Look 'em out.

Get Spirit here.
And Heart there.

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