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O brother, can Burnett entertain on his own

SOMERVILLE -- Watching T-Bone Burnett rip through his solo catalog Friday night at the Somerville Theatre felt like being in on a delicious secret.

As a producer, he is well known for bringing out the best in his clients (Elvis Costello , Counting Crows , Roy Orbison ) and meticulously curating award-winning American roots music soundtracks (``O Brother , Where Art Thou ? , " ``Walk the Line" ). But his cache of albums as a performer, solo and with bands, stretching back to 1972 remains largely undiscovered.

Except , that is , by the crowd filling the Somerville movie house to two-thirds capacity. Some were longtime fans, others familiar with his production work and curious about this bear of a man who rarely tours but has a terrific new album out: ``The True False Identity ," his first in 14 years.

That enduring love and curiosity was rewarded with a rip-snorting 90-minute set by what opener Jakob Dylan called ``probably the best band you've ever seen put together."

With legendary drummer Jim Keltner and guitar alchemist Marc Ribot teaming with in-demand Nashville bassist Dennis Crouch and hip-hop to hard rock keyboard journeyman Keefus Ciancia , Bob's son wasn't lying.

Not surprising, the group had juice to spare as it opened with the mood-setting foot stomper ``Seven Times Hotter Than Fire" and Ribot made the first of many trips to the other side with his jagged, fiery guitar work.

Burnett's lyrics held their own, with funny, insightful , and biting couplets breaking through the muscular band's drum-tight roots rock surfaces. Over the hot, off-kilter rhythms of ``Palestine Texas," Burnett informed certain government leaders ``when you come out of this self-delusion, you're gonna need a soul transfusion."

Other highs included the ghostly Tom Waits-like ``Zombieland," the loose-limbed and buzzy ``Tear This Building Down," the classic rocker ``Baby Don't You Say You Love Me , " and the solo electric version of the grief-stricken ``Thief of Love."

Burnett, who sometimes read from a music stand and even indulged in a little Shatnerian/beat poet speak - singing, exuded an endearing kind of awkwardness and sang in a strong tenor with Orbison-esque undertones of longing. He and his band seemed as excited as the crowd at the eclectic sounds they were making, and it was hard not to agree with the fan who yelled out, ``Let's not take so long next time!"

Dylan opened with a pleasurable and compact 30-minute set that showcased his strong, husky voice singing six tuneful Wallflowers tracks -- including ``Sleepwalker" and ``Drunken Marionette" -- accompanied only by his guitar and a keyboardist.

Sarah Rodman can be reached at

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