62. Trap Door & Behind the Trap Door – T-Bone Burnett
TRAP DOOR & BEHIND THE TRAP DOOR (1982 & 1984)
I know, I know, but it’s my list and I just could not bring myself to have have an EP by itself included in the Top 100, so I created a merged release. But did so with some reasoning, as faulty as many may find it. (There will be another “combo” release later, so get used to it).
Reason number one: “Trap Door” by itself is such an amazing collection of 6 songs that, by itself, could have and should have received consideration for placement this high up on the list. The six songs included on this EP are the single best collection of 6 songs from any T-Bone Burnett release.
Reason number two: Though not completely recorded at the same time, many songs from the original “Trap Door” songwriting and recording sessions made their way onto “Behind the Trap Door.” Though a full album was released between these two releases, it appears no songs from these recording sessions were used on “Proof Through the Night.”
Reason number three: The diversity the two projects present make such a wonderful case of the mastery and thought process of an amazing artist at one of the most prolific and outstanding points in his career.
Reason number four: The two EP’s were released at one point on a single release CD 🙂
The recording sessions for both EP’s featured primarily the same make-up of supporting musicians with Alpha Band members and constant friends and collaborators David Mansfield, David Miner, David Kemper and Steven Soles. “Trap Door” also features an up and coming vocalist in Tommy Funderburk.
“Trap Door” opens with possibly Burnett’s most accessible radio friendly tune, “Hold On Tight.” The jangly acoustic rock number that just drips with mercy, love, forgiveness and an optimistic view of love. The Beach Boys like melody frames a killer verse/chorus hook structure that remains unforgettable some three decades later.
“Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” has a killer bass line that drives the melody. This is a backdrop to a spoken word verse structure and Lou Reed-like chorus with limited vocalization. In an odd way, the instrumentation drives the chorus early on as much as the eventual choir-like vocals. What appears initially to be warning against women who covet “things” over relationship ends up being more about the abuses men have inflicted upon women through neglect and mistrust.
“I Wish You Could Have Seen Her Dance” is a 60’s rollicking rocker with a sexy, Beatlesque groove that could work as a sequel to the Beatle’s “I Saw Her Standing There.” The guitar work is so good and the chorus so memorable it just sticks for hours in the mind of the listener.
Now is as good any other time to note that this reviewer firmly believes this EP features Burnett’s finest vocals. Whether it is the more joyful and upbeat musical expressions, or a renewed sense of artistry, there is just something about the performances that are untouchable. Possibly the more countrified stylings of the previous release, “Truth Decay,” were limiting in that respect.
The stand out for me is “Ridiculous Man.” This one is really McCartney reworked, from the riff to the vocal delivery, the mop top is all that is missing. Pay special attention to the great guitar work.
“Poetry” is the closest thing to a country ballad on the project. Such a pretty little love song that is just stunning in its simplicity.
The title track closes the EP with another half-spoken verse structure that reveals some of life’s undeniable contradictions and paradoxes. Burnett croons “The funny thing about life is to live you must first die” appealing the Scriptural ideology. Then the wonderful chorus kicks in and drives the rest of the song warning that these contradictions are the truly great realities and to ignore them will lead one to miss the trap door.
It should be noted there are two different covers, but I prefer the original one shown above.
BEHIND THE TRAP DOOR
Significantly darker and much less popularly appealing, “Behind the Trap Door” reveals an artist struggling through a dark period and how the art of songwriting works as a release. That release is a positive, if not at times troubling, experience for the listener.
“Strange Combination” is a drum and bass driven spoken work song with limited hook and chorus. In fact, there really is no lyric structure in the chorus, just a repeated doo wah doo wah that drones over some fantastic instrumentation, especially the steely and stirring saxophone of Steve Berlin.
“Amnesia and Jealousy (Oh Lana)” was co-written with artist Larry Poons and is a dark and droning number that would have worked quite well on the final Alpha Band release. The song of infidelity and lack of reconciling partners belies the jangly chorus.
The Bono penned (with Burnett) “Having a Wonderful Time, Wish You Were Her” really does sound like an acoustic U2 song from that era. The wonderful twist in the title reveals the loss and desire for what was seemingly lost at the time in Burnett’s life. Lyrically it works as the direct opposite message to “Love the One You’re With.”
The most upbeat and “commercial” (by no means a single) tune is “The Law of Average.” I really can’t describe why I feel the way I do about this song, but it just always reminds me of Randy Stonehill. I don’t know if it’s the subtle “island” rhythm or Burnett’s more melancholy and lilting vocal performance. This, of any song on the project, could have worked on “Trap Door.”
“My Life and the Women Who Lived It” continues the theme that has been repeated often on the project. There was a real emotional loss and struggle present that will not be tamed by expressing the emotions. Smartly, the instrumentation is rather limited with just some percussion and acoustic guitar on top of a droning bass line. This gives the song a real stark and honest expression that the content demands.
The melancholy and sweet sounding “Welcome Home, Mr. Lewis” closes the album with some amazing violin that sounds a tad bit like “Are You Lonesome Tonight.” Perhaps the pain of emotional loss reminded Burnett of the Elvis Presley classic and the melody took shape from there? The song is also a very rare instrumental by Burnett during this time in his career and would later prove an invaluable experience as he ventured into movie soundtrack creation.
Many may claim that “Behind the Trap Door” is not an essential work for Burnett collectors, but I beg to differ. When taken as a whole and understood in relation to “Trap Door” (clearly and without argument a must have release), this dark but beautiful release is a necessary addition.