Songcatcher: Music from and Inspired by the Motion Picture
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Maybe they should have subtitled this album O Sister, Where Art Thou? Like the music from the Coen brothers' O Brother... movie, Songcatcher celebrates the emotional purity of mountain music, the acoustic balladry of the Appalachians--only this soundtrack features an all-female assemblage. Among the luminaries who shine the brightest: Rosanne Cash, who sets the tone with the album-opening "Fair and Tender Ladies"; Julie Miller, whose original "All My Tears" could pass as an old spiritual; Patty Loveless, who returns to her Kentucky roots with "Sounds of Loneliness"; and Gillian Welch, who leads an a cappella rendition of "Wind and Rain." Of the more familiar material, Emmylou Harris seems like she's coasting through the oft-revived "Barbara Allen" while Maria McKee sounds like she's singing for her life on "Wayfarin' Stranger." Yet the emphasis throughout is less on vocal virtuosity than on the stark simplicity of the songs, the album more impressive as an ensemble piece than a showcase for individual singers. --Don McLeese
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Instead, the producers opted to infuse the cd with a more mainstream sound to ensure greater commercial success. It is too bad that the producers lacked the courage to make an album that capitalized on the public nerve that the music in the film touched. The signature folk song in the film that began the song catching quest, "Barbara Allen", sung by the enormously talented Emmy Rossum, is a scant forty three seconds long on the cd, while the more commercial Emmylou Harris version is 4:33 seconds long. While I love Emmylou Harris, why not have Emmy Rossum, a glorious, new, talent sing a longer version, as well?
Iris Dement is terrific, as she was in the film, singing "Pretty Saro", as is Pat Carroll, singing"Single Girl". These two singers capture the raw vitality of the film and its old-timey mountain music, as does Emmy Rossum when singing "Barbara Allen". The same goes for Hazel Dickens, David Patrick Kelly, and Bobby McMillan when singing "Conversations with Death". Simple is sometimes better, a concept that the producers of this cd chose to forget.
"Sounds of Loneliness" by Patty Loveless has the old-timey mountain feel, even though its arrangement is purely commercial. The same goes for "All My Tears" by Julie Miller and "Wayfaring Stranger" by Maria McKee. I really enjoyed the different, mournful interpretation of "Moonshiner" by Alison Moorer. " With her rich, fulsome voice, she breaths new life into this oldie but goodie. The Wind and Rain", sung acapella by Gillian Welch, David Rawlings, and David Steele, is an interesting blend of harmonies.
Fans of both Dolly Parton and Emmy Rossum will enjoy their duet "When Love is New". Emmy Rossum has a little of the young Dolly Parton in terms of the timbre of her voice. Together, they are as wonderful as they each are individually.
"Fair and Tender Ladies", as sung by Roseanne Cash, is a pretty, pleasant ditty, overlaid with its strictly commercial arrangement and mainstream sound, as is "Barbara Allen" sung by Emmylou Harris. I enjoyed them both, though neither song sung by each has much raw power. The same goes for "Mary of the Wild Moor", as sung by Sara Evans. "The Cuckoo Bird", sung by Deana Carter, would have been better left unsung and off the cd. It adds nothing, musically or vocally.
"Score Suite #1" and "Score Suite #2" by David Mansfield, while pretty orchestral instrumentals, strike a discordant note in this cd. Since this cd was never really about the film anyway, why interject the score? It makes no sense, whatsoever.
Still, while I was disappointed by the mistaken direction producers took with this recording, it is still quite enjoyable due to the talent found within its tracks.