Record Review - 2 October 02 2003

The second release from Billy Bob Thornton finds the Academy Award- winning actor/director/ screenwriter/musician assuming yet another role. While his previous offering was an acoustic-tinged Americana jamboree with collaborator Marty Stuart, this outing features Thornton as the star of a gritty, semi-autobiographical concept album.

Partially showcasing the everyman persona of his late brother, musician Jimmy Don Thornton, the 73-minute album depicts a variety of heartbreaks and hardships. For instance, on the upbeat opener "Emily," one of two excellent Jimmy Don-penned tunes, the character desperately eyes an unobtainable waitress.

By the second track, Thornton bonds with other self-destructive lost souls in "Everybody Lies" — "You and I can't seem to play a game that works/So we hurt ourselves." Grainy film-noir vignettes "Island Avenue" and Fred Neil's "Everybody's Talking" dramatically illustrate the frustrations of seeking companionship and belonging while living isolated on The Edge of the World.

For the last half of the project, the focus shifts to a vague representation of his own struggles. Soul-searching ensues as he seeks God through a series of compromising situations and psychedelics only to find happiness, salvation and light in his children.

Thornton's darkly humorous lyrics and black coffee-'n'-cigarettes vocal style perfectly convey the raw human frailties of the moody, twangy Southern-fried "rock opry." The entertainer's real-life losses in the past year (a high-profile divorce, and the deaths of several close friends including Warren Zevon, who plays on the album) make the powerfully emotional performances even more affecting.