Music Reviews

Songcatcher

Music From and Inspired by the Motion Picture

Vanguard

Songcatcher is a film about a woman trying to preserve and record the folk songs of Appalachia. The soundtrack brings together some of the finest female country voices for a collection of interpretations of these traditional songs.

On the opening “Fair and Tender Ladies,” it’s great to hear Rosanne Cash’s voice after much too long an absence. And the also long-missing Maria McKee gives a powerful reading of “Wayfarin’ Stranger” that shows how much her voice has matured over the years.

Some of the performers here, like Iris Dement and Gillian Welch, could do this kind of stuff in their sleep, and their contributions effortlessly sound like they could have been recorded decades ago. On “Pretty Saro,” Dement is accompanied only by David Mansfield’s fiddle. And Welch, along with David Rawlings and David Steele, turns in an a cappella harmonized rendition of “Wind and Rain,” a song about building a fiddle out of parts from a dead woman. Yes, many of the songs here are of a dark and tragic nature, so listen at your own peril.

Emmylou Harris works more modern territory with her interpretation of “Barbara Allen,” featuring Mansfield on both banjo and drum programming (Mansfield also wrote the film’s score, a couple of samples of which are included on the CD).

Other artists here don’t sound completely at home in the Appalachian folk idiom. Contributions from Deana Carter and Sara Evans are a bit too bland. And Allison Moorer, whose The Hardest Part was a musical highlight of 2000, isn’t exactly paired with the best song. I don’t believe for a second that Moorer was ever a moonshiner spending all her money on whiskey and beers and going to some holler to put up her still. Her voice sounds great, regardless.

Two of the highlights here though are a couple of original songs. Dolly Parton and actress Emmy Rossum sound beautiful together on Parton’s “When Love is New,” surrounded by great players like Sam Bush and Jerry Douglas. And Julie Miller’s contribution is a re-recorded version of her “All My Tears” done in a more traditional style with Gillian Welch (banjo), Tammy Rogers (fiddle), and of course, husband Buddy Miller (harmonium, guitar) backing her up.

Overall, Songcatcher is several cuts above the average movie soundtrack in creativity and performances. It should appeal to anybody who bought the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack, or anyone who enjoys the work of these talented female artists.


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