In the world of Americana music, few names carry as much clout as that of T Bone Burnett. A CD with Burnett's name in its liner notes is almost like a steak that carries a "Grade A" stamp on its label. It validates the contents of the record prior to the first listen. For an artist to have that stamp of approval on her debut, as Sahara Smith does on "Myth of the Heart," speaks volumes to the quality of the artist and the album itself.
Burnett didn't actually produce this record (his apprentice Emile Kelman did), but it certainly bears his mark and his sound. Burnett oversaw the recording process and is credited in the liner notes for "shepherding" the project. As shepherd, he herded some of his go-to session players in Jay Bellerose on drums, Marc Ribot on guitars and Greg Leisz on steel. That's essentially the same band that worked on Robert Plant and Allison Krauss' multiple Grammy winning "Raising Sand" project.
With such a band and production team in place, the record can't help but have a pleasing sound. It's rife with Burnett's signature dusty Americana sound that has earned him his reputation within the genre. None of that, however, should take focus away from Smith herself. This is her album, and the songs are so well written and realized they would have an impact had she simply recorded them with some friends to a tape recorder in her basement.
While the writing of the 12 original songs is strong, it's Smith's vocals that truly bring her lyrics to life. On the back alley shuffle of The Real Thing, her voice is smoky and expressive, conveying a strong sense of longing and desire. Smith also achieves a smooth, Krauss-like quality on the sweeter ballad Angel.
The presence of Burnett and his usual associates may be what initially attracts curious listeners to this record. Listen in for a while, though, and you'll find the 21-year-old Smith easily stands on level ground with her more established collaborators.