Artist: PETER JOSEPH BURTT

Title: HAND TO MOUTH

Label: TEN TO TWELVE PRODUCTIONS

Release Date: APRIL 2009

BY DENNIS ROGER REED

PeterJosephBurttCD.jpgWe last left Peter Joseph Burtt with Sunken Forest. It was a treasure trove of African influenced blues, folk and pop. The interim years have not found Burtt resting on his laurels, and so we come to Hand To Mouth.

As with Sunken Forest, Burtt called upon his friend Corey Harris to produce. Harris provides guitar and vocals. Chris Cox is on keyboards, and Ben Isaacs does percussion. Burtt plays kora, guitar, mbir, vocals and wrote six of the nine songs on the project.

Once again, Burtt mixes together Celtic, African, American blues, East Indian strains, and even a bit of bluegrass/roots. It's a somewhat eclectic mix, but never seems forced or strained, since Burtt is attempting to make his own music without being indebted to any single source. And more than ever, he succeeds in creating this distinctive blend.

Burtt covers Eric Lindell's Two Bit Town and takes Tom Waits' Bottom of the World and turns it inside out, creating one of the wildest drinking songs ever. A tankard of ale is mandatory: stand on your table and sing out loudly "I'm lost, yes I'm lost, yes I'm lost at the bottom of the world." And Burtt dares to cover the traditional Canadi I O. This tune has been done by many, many individuals, but is held in the canon of musical taste as being owned by Nic Jones. Jones' version is so distinctive that it is almost with dread one waits for the first few notes of Burtt's version. One need not worry. Burtt twists and slips this Celtic tune through a maze of African, Caribbean and other influences, and makes any comparison with Jones futile. Suffice to say, both gentlemen have wonderful versions of this song.

But it is Burtt's own tunes that draw the most attention, and with the quality of the covers, that is a strong statement. Portrait of Marilyn the Salt Vendor gets the coolest title of the year award, and the song does not disappoint. It barely beats out The Day the Bull Fell Into the Well in the title category. Invisible is a rock song in folk clothing. The (acoustic) guitar drives the song harder than anything that Led Zeppelin ever attempted, and with a real melody, and with lyrics that have substance. One dare not call song lyrics poetry -because they are not - but this comes close... and with a rockin' catchy chorus that will have you singing along with a little reggae influenced falsetto, whether you want to or not. There are pop writers that toiled for years in the Brill Building and never came as close to a pop song that actually says something while inviting you to dance.

The last cut, Portrait of Marilyn the Salt Vendor, is listed as being 12:48 minutes long, but fades at 4:59 only to return at 8:05 with a rain shower, and then a catch tune featuring a brass section. Very cool.

Burtt has a distinctive, gravelly voice that still manages to convey a certain peace in delivery. His multi-instrumental talents, especially on the kora, add a tremendous amount of color to an already bright project. Each instrument is clear and present in the mix. The production values are perfect for the material. The dance-ability factor is very high: in fact, I bet a hip teenager would give it 95 on American Bandstand in a more just parallel universe.

All too often, multiple influences take the individual colors and turn them murky brown. Burtt has not succumbed to this at all. His music is Peter Burtt music, and the colors are bright and distinct, like the cover art by Nzante Spee. The CD can be purchased at CD BABY.

Dennis Roger Reed is a singer-songwriter, musician and writer based in San Clemente, CA. He's released two solo CDs, and appeared on two CDs with the newgrassy Andy Rau Band and two CDs with the roots rockers Blue Mama. His prose has appeared in a variety of publications such as the OC Weekly and MOJO magazine. Writing about his music has appeared in an eclectic group of publications such as Bass Player, Acoustic Musician, Dirty Linen, Blue Suede News and Sing Out! His oddest folk resume entry would be the period of several months in 2002 when he danced onstage as part of both Little Richard's and Paul Simon's revues. He was actually asked to do the former and condoned by the latter. He apparently knows no shame.