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Stephen Bruton

FROM THE FIVE  •  Stephen Bruton

You could be forgiven for thinking that From The Five was the work of an artist who had recently been "born again." It starts off with "Bigger Wheel," about admitting that we don't control things and giving it up to a higher power; immediately segues into a song called "This Old World," claiming what the world needs is love, then completes the hat trick with the third tune called "Walk By Faith," recommending that if you "walk by faith and not by sight," you will reach the "promised land" and "higher ground." But it doesn't stop there--even the lament of an aging man's lost relationship, "Fading Man," is effectively colored with Salvation Army/Alan Toussaint-style horns.

Still, even without Bruton's assurances in a recent interview that he had no such conversion experience and had no intention of making a "Christian Rock" record, a close listen will reveal that From The Five is not a religious record but a spiritual one in the best sense. As with all the Texas guitarist's work, it is the product of a man who has led a full, thoughtful life and is not afraid to write about it. The higher power in "Bigger Wheel" could be anything from a god to the uncaring universe, likewise the faith in "Walk By Faith" could be faith in yourself, faith that it will all be okay, or, yes, faith in the Holy Trinity. Bruton keeps it purposefully vague. The Doomsday Clock in "The Clock" is not the book of Revelations, but the revelation that civilizations rise and fall, and if we don't keep an eye on that clock we could soon be slipping down the slope--like the Mayans, Aztecs, and Incas. We find that "The Halo Effect" refers not to an angel of the Lord but a friend who has passed on. Bruton's offhand, conversational delivery keeps the lessons from ever being preachy and makes the personal stuff all the more moving.

Some of the best songwriters are equally adept at penning humorous ditties and heartbreaking ballads--think Warren Zevon and Randy Newman. For my money, Stephen Bruton ranks among them; the rollicking New Orleans-inflected "Put Me Out of Your Misery," a tune that has a ball with all the cliches of breakup ("you'll make a better widow than you ever did a wife," "I'm so miserable without you it's almost like having you here," "Why keep coming back for less"), butts right up against the elegiac beauty of the aforementioned "The Halo Effect."

The former Kristofferson, Raitt, McClinton sideman (did I mention he is one of the great guitarists?) once wrote what I consider to be a classic--"Too Many Memories"--which contains one of my favorite lines in all of songdom: "What makes you grow old is replacing hope with regret." Stephen Bruton pens amazing songs of experience devoid of regret, laden with hope, and often manages to rock the room with them. He is guaranteed to die before he gets old. What more can he, or any of us, ask? • Michael Ross

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stephenbruton.com      newwesterecords.com

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