Reviewed by Raoul Hernandez, Fri., Feb. 22, 2002
Stephen BrutonSpirit World (New West) Stephen Bruton may be the most cosmopolitan singing-songwriting guitarist since another Fort Worth apprentice, Boz Scaggs, shuffled into the big time back in the Seventies. It's a combination of things: Bruton's barroom drawl and the philosophically resigned wonderment of his lyrics. A rhythm team -- Austin's Brannen Temple and Yoggie Musgrove -- so smooth they're almost translucent. Musical and personal assurance wrought by a lifetime's worth of experience. On Spirit World, his fourth solo disc, Bruton's shamanistic command of these elements is powerful and proud. Dedicated to Mambo John Treanor, Champ Hood, Vernon White, Grady Martin, and "large as life" George Harrison, Spirit World speaks its peace with what Neil Young once called all one song, what Keith Richards terms all one riff. Opener "Yo Yo," seven minutes of slow-burning atmospherics (most tracks here approach/exceed the five-minute mark), shape-shifts a melody familiar to many of Bruton's most memorable compositions, boiling it down to perhaps its most potent form. That same essence also informs the album's emotional core, back-to-back centerpieces "Just a Dream" and "Spirit World." Fans of Bruton's 1998 New West debut, Nothing but the Truth, will hear a resemblance to that LP's title track and "When Love Finds You." Jaunty dust-kicker "Acre of Snakes" ("if all these walls could talk, they'd slur") hearkens back to the namesake of 1995's Right on Time. When he's not taking a page out of his own must-read, Bruton's Slowhand licks abound; "Hate to Love" sounds like it was left off Clapton's 461 Ocean Boulevard. Sand 'n' sunset closer, "The Best Is Yet to Come," is a misnomer. Spirit World is here to stay.