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For the Sake of a Song and Screw You, Uncle Mike

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by Alex V. Cook, Music Editor for outsideleft.com
originally published: August, 2005
I am finding some moments of clarity in the old fashioned, great songwriting of Stephen Bruton

Stephen Bruton
From the Five
(New West)

I was once described by an uncle in this way: Some people follow the beat of a different drummer; Alex is following some guy kicking a can down the street. My mother always likes to drag this chestnut out as a compliment, but given the source, a stern notoriously cranky conservative curmudgeon, I think it was meant otherwise, but whatever. It turns out the crusty bastard was right, in that I have always been interested in that guy kicking the can, and the racket he makes. Racket is the universe's song. But,I have often spent a little too much time following that guy, and am so off the musical radar from the rest of everyone around me. Like currently, I am nursing an unhealthily strong interest in intense doom metal and obtuse tuneless quasi folk gibberish, and I am finding some moments of clarity in the old fashioned, great songwriting of Stephen Bruton.

Like every great singer-songwriter in operation, he has roots in Texas and has produced everyone and played with every and probably has had songs of his recorded by Bonnie Raitt and Willie Nelson, who seem to cast a trawl net over that whole half of the Lone Star State. While he bills himself with humility as a "guitar player" his latest album From the Five pegs him as a Austin City Limits-ready troubadour with distinctive R&B bent to him. His role as a producer for others shows in his arrangements, where its not a bland mush of instruments fleshing out these songs, but you hear each and every player in their collective glory on the country-funky "Bigger Wheel" and the down-home lope of "Walk By Faith."

There are large atmospheric tear-jerkers like "Fading Man" where he casts himself as a sideshow freak in one of the most deliciously extended metaphors I've heard in a while. And the greatest track on the album is probably the accordion laden acoustic ballad "Every Once in a While." The thing that separates this album from most alt-whatever cowboy poetry readings is that once he goes folky, he does re-emerge with a funky one, like the latter-day Lou Reed-esque "The Clock" and the roots rocker "Ordinary Man." Every track on the album is fun, and poignant and excellently executed. Bruton may not be exactly breaking new ground on From the Five, but its a guitar, not a shovel with which his art is created. Now, let me finish this beer and enjoy the rest of this record before that guy kicking the can gets back.

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Alex V. Cook
Music Editor

Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v cook.com

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