Billy Bob Thornton

Private Radio – 2001 (Lost Highway)

Reviewed by Brian Baker

CDs by Billy Bob Thornton

A lot of country music fans will look at the first album from renowned film director/actor Billy Bob Thornton and see a vanity release. The truth is Thornton was a musician first, fronting a handful of Arkansas bands including a ZZ Top tribute band, before yielding to his acting career.

As good as this is overall, there is still a kernel of truth in the vanity album theory. Thornton's growling sing/speak vocals and highly visual songs are quirky enough that the project may not have attracted any attention from labels if not for his notoriety of late. That said, there are some legitimately cool moments. "Smoking in Bed" is a frenetic John Prine/Waylon rocker, "Angelina" is a sweet answer to a famous couple's critics, and "He Was a Friend of Mine" is a pop-tinted folk song.

With the album produced and primarily co-written with Marty Stuart, the musical integrity is never in question. Chances are if you like Thornton's offbeat films, you'll appreciate the same qualities in his offbeat album.