Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Crazy Heart, A Soundtrack By T Bone Burnett

Coming home with a movie soundtrack by T Bone Burnett is a little like receiving a mixed CD from your best friend: you pretty much know what the general aural landscape is likely to be, even as you brace yourself for a few surprises. The effect is compounded if you buy the soundtrack before you see the movie. A friend of mine puzzled over the inclusion of no less than three takes of “I Am A Man Of Constant Sorrow” before he finally saw O Brother, Where Art Thou. Prior to the movie, the alternate takes did not sustain enough tension to keep him tuned in. The ideal listener for O Brother is someone who loved the movie, and wants the CD for a souvenir. O Brother's polar opposite is the soundtrack to The Divine Secrets Of The Ya-Ya Sisterhood, which pulls together music of incredible depth and nuance for a movie that lacked both (A).

Burnett has become the go-to guy for people desiring a certain “Americana” sound. His own influences include two-string rockabilly and steel-guitar country, usually with a dash of beatnik bongos thrown in. He loves — he lives — to play, which is often the spirit needed to bring out a movie star's chops as vocalist. Thus, when the audience actually hears Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon singing together they can easily enough buy into these actors embodying Johnny Cash and June Carter, even if they'd rather hear the original on the drive back home.

The Crazy Heart soundtrack (A, e) has that same element at work. Not having seen the movie, I can well imagine that Jeff Bridges' slurry crooning carries the story where it needs to go. Much of what he sings is mixed to sound like it's being heard from the back of a smoky nightclub, which keeps the tonality from falling too hard on the ears. Even so, when the film's original material is interrupted by the likes of Lightnin' Hopkins, Lucinda Williams, George Jones and Townes Van Zandt, I can't help but notice there's something missing when the movie stars take the mic.

Never mind: it all rests easily enough on the eardrums. In the pantheon of T Bone soundtracks, it falls a few steps from Divine Secrets, just a shade below O Brother — at least until I get to sit myself in a theatre.

I have a few further thoughts on the matter of movie stars' singing, in the comments.


DarkoV said...

Sounds tempting. I'm not as big a fan of Mr. Burnett as you are as regards his own albums (His voice is a bit too thin for repetitive listening to these ears), but I am a huge fan of his film-related work.
Agree totally with your assessment of the the Ya-Ya film v. the s/t of the movie, but I'd put O Brother's s/t above, way above, the Ya-Ya s/t. Alison Krauss's version of "Down to the Rive to Pray" can be on an eternal play loop, as far as I'm concerned. And Gillian Welch is no slouch on "I'll Fly Away".

Just a note on the links. When I hit the Amazon link, I cmae to the "Crazy Heart" s/t without all of the other folks you'd listed (lucinda et al). When I poked around for the SPECIAL DELUXE LIMITED version of the CD, all the other performers appeared. WOW! There's even a song, "Brand New Angel" sung by Jeff Bridges, by one of my favorite singers, Greg Brown on the extended deluxe limited special one-time-offer-only-for-you version.
Enough for me for a point 'n click.

Now...to the movies, as it's impossible to see a dud if Jeff Bridges is in it.

Whisky Prajer said...

Bridges is usually able to salvage something from the mediocre, isn't he? I have to say I'm continually surprised by just how many opportunities he gets to do just that, thanks to the choices he (or his agent) keep making. I'm still waiting for the movie that absolutely nails his status as Unforgettable Movie Star.

Although maybe Big Lebowski and Last Picture Show are it? Certainly any number of Hollywood actors would kill for those roles.

Thanks for pointing out the link issue: I've been playing the "Special Deluxe Limited" CD you mention. Didn't seem so unique when I bought it at the downtown media outlet a week ago.

Whisky Prajer said...

Alright, it's a week later and I have to admit I'm at the point where I skip over all of Jeff's tracks, with the sole exception of "Brand New Angel." "Fallin' & Flyin'" is particularly onerous: it perches much too close to my idea of a bad country song (currently embodied by "She Thinks My Tractor's Sexy") and sounds suspiciously like a casting call piece. The jin-yoo-wine singers, on the other hand, still please the ear. The download route is the recommended one, in this case.