I Don’t Care That T-Bone Burnett Produced Your Album
Yeah, that’s right. I said it. I don’t care if T-Bone Burnett, or anybody else with a famous name produced your album. What I am concerned with is if it is good.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying T Bone Burnett is a bad producer. It’s just at some point hype far exceeds substance, and I think we have passed that point with the “T-Bone Burnett” name. It has become the mega franchise of Americana music. Many folks will buy an album if T-Bone’s name is on the back, regardless of who’s name is on the front. It’s also the golden ticket to media coverage. Want your music featured by NPR? Want reviews in leading periodicals like Paste and American Songwriter? Then get T-Bone Burnett involved somehow. What does that take? I don’t know, from the outside looking in, it looks like it takes a built-in pre-existing celebrity status, or lots of money.
His name has become an undeniable marketing tool, and sometimes it is used regardless of his association with whatever is being marketed. Even if your music project wasn’t produced or otherwise touched by T-Bone, if somehow, some way, through whatever convoluted set of circumstances you can associate your music with T-Bone, then that is what you do because T-Bone sells. But T-Bone may not even be to blame for the overexposure of the T-Bone name. In fact he might be the victim.
Some folks are really excited about this new T-Bone / Civil Wars / Taylor Swift collaboration “Safe & Sound” and are wondering if T-Bone might produce Taylor Swift’s next album. God I hope not. One of the things that’s cool about Taylor Swift is that she produces her own stuff which even for pop music, gives it a unique flavor. If T-Bone produced it, it would sound like… well… T-Bone.
And what exactly is T-Bone’s producing legacy? In my opinion, it’s to shave off the sharp edges of American roots music until it is palatable to the NPR elitists of America’s white upper crust so that they can play it at cocktail parties without interrupting their intellectual politico banter. In fact I think T-Bone is at the heart of the adverse NPR effect on American roots music; the “softening” or “taming” of the roots to appease demographics and financial concerns, despite it’s “independent” labeling.
With all that being said, I cannot sit here and say that T-Bone is bad. I happen to like a lot of the music he produces, and his track record speaks for itself. All I know is that in the era after he produced the O Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack, when I saw the name “T-Bone Burnett” my brow furrowed with interest. Then the interest went to indifference by the sheer rate of projects attempting to piggy back off the “T-Bone” name passing under my nose. Now when I see “T-Bone Burnett” associated with a project, I wince.
And I have a feeling I am not alone.
Fifth on the Floor
February 7, 2012 @ 10:23 am
I hate to agree. Knowing T-Bone was involved with a project used to give it a +2 to me, but a couple of more recent projects called that into question. I feel that the majority of his work is incredible, but not the entirety.
Chris Lewis "Louie"
February 7, 2012 @ 10:43 am
I’m not sure I agree with you. I do think majority of the stuff he touches turns out golden. I think the work he did with Gregg Allman, Ryan Bingham, Jeff Bridges, Allison Krauss, Steve Earle, Robert Randolph, Willie Nelson, Ralph Stanley has all been great in my opinion.
Not to mention the great work he did with the movies: Crazy Heart, O’ Brother, Walk the Line, Across the Universe, Cold Mountain, and Big Lebowski.
Personally If I was an artist I would want him to oversee my work. I personally think this guy has an ear to the ground.
I think he’s just on top of his game and everyone is talking about him much more now.
February 7, 2012 @ 12:52 pm
My point is not to say that T-Bone is a bad producer. Many of those projects I honestly think would be better if they were more raw. The Ryan Bingham and Jeff Bridges album I think define the NPR effect on music I talk about, but granted, that boils down to taste.
My beef here is why is a single song sold as “The T-Bone Burnett-produced collaboration between Taylor Swift and The Civil Wars.” Why do I care who produced it? Let me hear the song. Tell me who is singing it. When T-Bone is the first name I see, I sense that marketing based on a name instead of substance is involved.
Willie Nelson and Gregg Allman need T-Bone Burnett? Or does T-Bone Burnett need them. Who was the producer of Willie’s “Red Headed Stranger”, the best country album ever? I can’t tell you off the top of my head. My guess is there wasn’t one, or it was Willie Nelson.
February 7, 2012 @ 2:21 pm
I think that’s an excellent point. Those projects could have most definitely been more raw. It was a pretty spot-on assertion that T-Bone’s producing legacy lies in shaving off the rough edges of roots music for the NPR crowd. A perfect example of this would be in John Mellencamp’s 2010 album, “No Better Than This.” Even though the record was recorded Sun Records style – one mic cut live to reel-to-reel and despite it being more raw than typical T-Bone-at-the-helm, it still felt a bit like it was cleaned up, smoothed out. And don’t get me wrong, I still love the album, but sometimes that makes the difference between a good album and a great album. Bruce Springsteen’s “Nebraska” is a great album, but would it still be considered one if it had been recorded in ProTools? I’m not so sure. How something is recorded is only slightly less important than what is actually being recorded. For T-Bone to “shave off the edges” of roots records in order to create a facsimile version of a dirty roots record is almost worse than making it sound all spick and span in the first place.
February 7, 2012 @ 10:55 am
At this point it’s just hard for me to believe. I mean like you said. He made some great contributions. But at this point is he just selling his name? Is this just viewed as product?
February 7, 2012 @ 12:25 pm
your first paragraph says it all.
February 7, 2012 @ 2:22 pm
I mostly agree with this, but I will say that, to my ears, Robert Plant’s “Band of Joy” record (produced by Buddy Miller, I believe) represents the NPR sound much more than his album with Alisson Krauss that T-Bone produced.
As far as Willie goes, yes, he did produce “Red Headed Stranger” but he was hungry at the time. Often artists will hit the big time and try to get away with anything. A reggae album for instance. That’s when they need a great producer to corral them. I think T-Bone’s greatness as a producer can be seen by comparing “Country Music,” the album he did with Willie in 2010, and Willie’s latest album “Remember Me.” Both are basically the same concept: Willie sings country standards. But “Country Music” shows him refreshed and delivering one of his best records in decades while “Remember Me” finds him running through songs he loves backed by a generic studio band.
Additionally, he produced the last two John Mellencamp records which are easily the best of his career.
But yes, Ryan Bingham, Gregg Allman, Jeff Bridges and some others would probably be better off with another producer.
February 7, 2012 @ 2:35 pm
After Kid Rock, Linkin Park, and Josh Groban – how long til we say the same thing about Rick Rubin?
February 7, 2012 @ 7:03 pm
The thing about Rick Rubin is he is very hit and miss. Also, he is not nitchy like T-Bone. T-Bone has done some rock and such, Counting Crows and stuff like that, but T-Bone will mostly stay in his element. Rick will produce, Johnny Cash, Jay-Z, and Metallica.
I don’t know if it’s fair to either to give them a side-by-side comparison. Rick Rubin has done some bad stuff yes, but I also think he does what he wants to do.
February 7, 2012 @ 2:44 pm
he has gotten so popular, there is actually a waiting list for him to produce a release. could be wrong, but when I was talking to Valerie June awhile back, she was sittin on an exsisting release or two, to record and release a T Bone Burnett produced CD (could be wrong, but it rings loud bells)…. great people make great things….great money makes good things, and sometimes great things….
February 7, 2012 @ 6:00 pm
Off topic but all she needs is someone to record her and not mess with it! No extra production added!
February 7, 2012 @ 2:52 pm
Like Big A said, I fear T-Bone will turn into the next Rick Rubin. Rubin’s work with JC and other musicians was legendary, but now I dread seeing Rick Rubin’s name next to the producer credit.
February 7, 2012 @ 3:37 pm
Burnett produced Gregg Allman’s ” Low Country Blues ” . It doesn’t suck , but there’s nothing special about it either . While we’re on the topic of big name producers , did anyone hear or read about what Ed King had to say about the late Tom Dowd ? King accused Dowd of intentionally making Skynyrd’s albums sound “cardboard” while putting his best foot forward for the Allman Bros. Band .
February 7, 2012 @ 6:41 pm
Didn’t Kenney Chesney produce Willie’s last album? Something like that ….. someone confirm or correct me…I know I am on the right track….
February 7, 2012 @ 7:00 pm
Kenny produced one back in the late oughts or so, the one with the Dave Matthews cover “Gravedigger”. That was when Willie was trying to be “relevant”. I’m glad he’s now back to trying to be himself.
February 7, 2012 @ 10:37 pm
I don’t know about any projects were only his name was used with very little involvement but I do know this. When the recording of The Ghost Brothers Of Darkland County project he Produced witch was writen by John Melencamp & Stephen King was finished he was so unhappy with it he through out the recording made everyone rerecord there parts & told John Melencamp he was recasting his part.
February 8, 2012 @ 8:43 am
Good article, and I’m with you.
For the record, I don’t get the big deal about The Civil Wars… Am I missing something?
February 8, 2012 @ 9:45 am
I have respect for The Civil Wars, but just like T-Bone, there’s more hype than substance. They are vocal acrobats, not artists. They are the vocal equivalent to Steve Vai. I’m not going to go to battle with anyone that says they like them because deep down there is substance there, but yeah, I don’t get it.
February 8, 2012 @ 10:20 am
“They are the vocal equivalent to Steve Vai.”
February 8, 2012 @ 9:23 am
He’s the “Angus Beef” of producers….you get more for having him on the label even if it tastes the same.
February 8, 2012 @ 9:45 am
But doesn’t stuff taste better the more money you spend on it? 😉
February 8, 2012 @ 10:32 pm
his The Ladykillers soundtrack doesn’t get enough love.
February 9, 2012 @ 8:58 am
If you want a Grammy, have T-Bone Burnett produce your CD, its the talk of the town these days…. I like what Shania Twain’s husband did myself. As soon as her 1st main CD was released, he went out and bought 50k copies off the shelf, making it “Gold”, and the radio staions had to play it….. its who ya know or what ya do with who, it seems. Did T-Bone bring Alison Krause and Robert Plant together? Or did he just produce it? Anyone know?
February 9, 2012 @ 9:25 am
Do you understand that there is marketing involved in some of this music???
Why do we care T-Bone produced it??? Some people do so they market it that way.
In your concern over the Taylor/Civil Wars project, maybe those backing it are concerned since Taylor is associated with it, the more “adult” crowd won’t go for it because she is associated with teenie-bop music. So attach T-Bone to it to resinate with a crowd that may not go for project stamped “Taylor Swift”.
Now you’re fighting against T-Bone? Jesus man. Where is your compass?
February 9, 2012 @ 6:51 pm
This Kind of reminds me of the Rick Ruben situation. Rick caught some a amazing stuff by some amazing artists. And he definitely pushed the music industry as a whole in a positive direction at a time when it was severely needed. But then it got to a point the the Def America and Rick Ruben labels where bought and talked about far more than the artists that were on many of the albums. They even did some compilation albums that sold the label first. As a whole I think he was a positive influence on the industry. Just like T bone is becoming. But it is another shining example of when art is monopolized.
October 7, 2013 @ 6:21 am
So glad to find this article. I could not have said it better myself. Thank you.
November 7, 2014 @ 6:36 am
first of all Taylor swift does not produce anything herself lol she has people around her to show her things.Also nothing Taylor swift does is unique lo Shania did that 12 years ago and took it worldwide on a massive scale and she never had the advantage social media or nashville liking her. As for t bone, i hear he was at shania’s vegas concert last week and met her back stage. He might be the one producing the album she is working on. i don’t know enough about him to have an educated opinion .
February 28, 2016 @ 5:42 pm
“Don”™t get me wrong, I”™m not saying T Bone Burnett is a bad producer. It”™s just at some point hype far exceeds substance, and I think we have passed that point with the “T-Bone Burnett” name. It has become the mega franchise of Americana music. Many folks will buy an album if T-Bone”™s name is on the back, regardless of who”™s name is on the front. It”™s also the golden ticket to media coverage. ”
Exactly , Trigger
Dave Cobb anyone ?