Sunday, April 22, 2012


Okay, it's simple.  You want a good soundtrack for your movie?  Give the job to T Bone Burnett.  SInce reviving old-time music with O Brother Where Art Thou?, he has a spotless record with films, and a near-perfect one with regular artists, too.  Meet with him, explain your vision, he'll come up with a theme, whether it's alt-country (Crazy Heart) or Civil War (Cold Mountain).  Most soundtracks with vocal performances might have a few good songs on them, but hardly stand up as albums; Burnett productions are among the best new albums of the year.

Now, I'm going to take issue with a couple of tracks here, but for the most part it's a typical, excellent work by Burnett.  He's gathered the new breed of folk-inspired performers, and written and produced new works with them.  You'll always get an evocative number with him, and the artists must just drool to work with him.  He always finds excellent female singers as well, and here you get The Secret Sisters, Neko Case, Miranda Lambert and Pistol Annies, and Birdy.  New faves The Civil Wars sound great, their acoustic-and-harmony sound putty in his hands.  And the relative veterans have their games moved up a notch;  The Decemberists and The Low Anthem benefiting.  But now Burnett is just showing off; to prove he can make a great song with anyone, here he shows that both Taylor Swift and Maroon 5 can not only be listenable, these two provide two of the best, if not the best, songs on the release.

That statement is made even more surprising considering that Arcade Fire are supposed to be providing that, with a new track written with Burnett leads off the release.  It actually turns out to be a huge disappointment, as the moody number, sung by Regine, really has only atmosphere and no life.  Perhaps, oh you millions who have seen the movie, you might be able to inform me of a specific need for the song for a particular scene; if not, it's a rare flub for both.

The other disconcerting track is the second featuring Swift.  It's a big, dumb, typical Taylor Swift song called Eyes Open, and on liner note inspection, one finds absolutely no involvement from Burnett.  It sounds like her people insisted if she was involved, there would be an opportunity for a big hit single on the collection, and the filmmakers probably thought that was a good idea, too.  She's there to attract that demographic, Burnett's there for the art.  He probably had to hold his nose about the song when he agreed to do the rest of the soundtrack, but in the end he made another masterful soundtrack, even with Taylor Swift on one of his own songs.

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