For anyone who only thinks of Billy Bob Thornton as only a really tremendous actor, it's time to open your ears. Billy Bob's released four solo albums, starting with Private Radio in 2001, following up with The Edge of the World in 2003, then Hobo in 2005, and most recently Beautiful Door in 2007. But with all of those releases, Billy Bob's been trying to find his voice. By teaming up with J.D.
Andrews and Mike Butler to form The Boxmasters, Billy Bob has found it. And how.
Billy Bob Thornton - Absolute Chameleon
I've admired Billy Bob Thornton for many years as an actor. The man is an absolute chameleon and can play any role you hand him (try watching Sling Blade back to back with Pushing Tin and just see if that's not true).
But as good an actor as he is, he's also a tremendous musician, as well. I discovered him with the release of Private Radio. As a singer, he's not much of a vocalist; his tone is raw but his voice is pure and totally honest. He also plays drums. And I have to agree with Billy Bob - The Boxmasters IS his niche. This is pure, gritty, down-and-dirty Rockabilly, a wild rootsy blending of Elvis and the Beatles (as Billy Bob himself calls them, "the Beatles, the Monkees, and the Turtles with Del Reeves and Buck Owens and Merle Haggard - all put together").
Billy Bob was raised in music, he knows how to make it right. His influences consist of all of the above-listed groups, as well as the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, for whom he was a roadie, back in the day.
(Not surprisingly, the second disc in the Boxmasters' set has a sound and feel much like that of my favorite NGDB album, Dirt, Silver, & Gold.)
The first disc is all original music, written mostly by Thornton himself; the second pays homage to all those influences with some impressive cover versions of classics.
Many of the original songs on disc one have a few, well, naughty words, which has caused even the wistful Loggins & Messina "House At Pooh Corner" get tagged "Explicit."
Don't worry, they didn't change any of the lyrics to the classics. You can listen to their marvelous cover of Mel Tillis' "Sawmill," Chad & Jeremy's "Yesterday's Gone," The Who's "The Kids Are Alright," or, to my delight, Michael Nesmith's "Some of Shelley's Blues" and the beautiful "Propinquity" without fear. The only songs which do merit the harsh tags from Parental Advisory Board are "I'll Give You A Ring," "2-Bit Grifter," "I'm Watchin' the Game," and, of course, "Sh*t List"; the rest are pretty tame, dealing with standard country themes such as lying, cheating, jail, gambling - the usual vices.
The only problem I have at all with the CDs is a petty complaint, and that's what works on vinyl doesn't digitally. The songs all run together with no breaks in between, and, as such, the makers of the discs didn't know where to put the start of each track - this is particularly weird at the end of old-time murder ballad "Knoxville Girl" segueing into the Beatles' "I Want To Hold Your Hand." It's rather unsettling to hear the fadeout "...don't kill me don't kill me don't kill me... Oh yeah I'll tell you something..." when you have your songs loaded onto an MP3 player on shuffle.
Release Date: June 10, 2008 - Label: Vanguard
- The Poor House
- Build Your Own Prison
- I'll Give You a Ring
- The Last Place They Would Look
- Shit List
- I'm Watchin' The Game
- 20 Years Ago
- That Mountain
- The Work of Art
- 2-Bit Grifter
- The Girl On The Side
- No Whiskey in Heaven
- She's Lookin' Better by the Minute
- Some of Shelley's Blues
- Memories of You and I
- Yesterday's Gone
- Knoxville Girl
- I Wanna Hold Your Hand
- Original Mixed Up Kid
- House at Pooh Corner
- The Kids Are Alright