Release Date: 12.16.03
Record label: Sony Music Soundtrax
Genre(s): Movies, Film Scores, Musicals, Etc.
The Other Side of Traditional American Folk Music
by: bill aicher
You have to hand it to T Bone Burnett. Not only did he almost single-handedly bring traditional Amercan folk music back to life with his soundtrack for O Brother, Where Art Thou?, but he made it a phenomenon. And, unlike many of these musical revivals we've seen over the years (neo-swing comes to mind), the bluegrass/folk revival actually brought this music a newfound appreciation throughout listeners of many different genres - both young and old.
One thing that didn't happen, unlike the film industry's discovery of the comic book goldmine, was a quick jump from every major studio to incorporate American folk and bluegrass into their soundtracks. This could have been a horrible thing for the genre, and perhaps was one of the reasons it's stayed such a respectable area of music (both inside and out of the film realm). Still, it was inevitable that someone pick up T Bone Burnett to work as the producer on their next period piece. Luckily it was for a period piece that also translated into a truly amazing piece of film. Namely, Cold Mountain.
Following roughly the same artistic direction as the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack, Cold Mountain digs deep into the back reaches of traditional Amercan music, as well as incorporating several brand new songs that fit closely into the same thematic and musical underpinnings of these traditional pieces.
Handling performance duties on three of these traditionals is Jack White, the lead singer of the Grammy-nominated rock group, The White Stripes. The album opens with his stunning rendition of "Wayfaring Stranger." On this, and his other traditionals (featuring fiddle work by the great Stuart Duncan) White leaves his rock 'n' roll growl behind, instead offering a country warble that lends itself more than sufficiently to the Southern Appalachian feel of these pieces. But where White shines most is in his skill in original songwriting with "Never Far Away" which was written specifically for this soundtrack and tells the story of Inman's (the lead character's) journey home from his point of view.
Elsewhere, Alison Krauss's "The Scarlet Tide" (newly penned by Elvis Costello and T Bone Burnett) works disturbingly well both as a song on its own, as well as an exploration of the sadness and despair of love in the time of war and death. Krauss's other contribution, "You Will Be My Ain True Love," (written by, and backing vocals by Sting) doesn't work quite as well, due mostly to Sting's tendency to make every song a pop song these days. Still, it's quite well-written, and Krauss delivers marvelously. It's little wonder both of her contributions have been nominated for Academy Awards.
The majority of the rest of the record further explores the darker side of traditional folk music, most notably in Tim Eriksen, Riley Baugus & Tim O'Brien's chilling rendition of "I Wish My Baby Was Born" - a song that carries much more of a blow after viewing the film, but succeeds nearly as well on its own.
As for the scoring on the film, this was handled by Gabriel Yared (The T alented Mr. Ripley, Message in a Bottle, City of Angels). Four of his pieces are also present here, including the film's main theme "Ada Plays." Unfortunately they don't deliver the same punch as the album's more traditional titles, and their presence clumped together near the album's end implies they may have only made the cut as an afterthought. Still, fans of the film will be glad to see these themes present as well.
Like it's cousin, the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack, Cold Mountain delivers a delightful collection of traditional American music, all performed true to their form by a tremendously talented group of musicians. Those who were enthralled by O Brother's more upbeat and carefree feel may be a bit disappointed, but for a more full spectrum of this often-overlooked genre, Cold Mountain is deserving of it's space next to anyone who found O Brother, Where Art Thou? as spellbinding as this music truly is. 29-Jan-2004 6:00 PM