Crazy Heart

Crazy Heart

Various Artists

Crazy Heart: Original Motion Picture Sound Track

Fox Search Light / New West

As movie soundtrack albums go, this is one of the few that has a coherent musical structure that stands on its own. Whether that’s a happy accident or a calculated strategy I can’t say, but the unifying theme here is the 2010 state of country music. There’s a nice collection of old school artists including Kitty Wells, Buck Owens, and The Louvin Brothers, and some more modern troupers like George Jones and Waylon Jennings, but the main musical thrust comes from the principals in the film, Jeff Bridges, Ryan Bingham, and Collin Farrell.

Stripped of any story or conflict, the music clearly shows the stylistic roots of country music and where it’s ended up today. Possibly the most primal cut is “Once A Gambler” by Lightnin’ Hopkins. It’s Delta Blues sung by a black man who knows how evil and how blessed life can be. Kitty Well’s “Searching (For Someone Like You)” and Buck Owens “Hello Trouble” add the next layer — these represent the slick and slightly corny Nashville sound of the sixties that my parents listened to when doing chores. By the time computers arrived, Waylon Jennings and George Jones had crossed over to mainstream American pop with “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way” and “Color of the Blues.” These songs have a snarky self-reference that says “We’re just entertainers, and we’ve just picked a particular style to work in.” The Beastie Boys or the Pet Shop Boys can say exactly the same thing, and it’s Lucinda Williams’ “Joy” that ends that element of the journey. She’s somewhere between zydeco and hip hop, and I’ll bet she’s got the barbed-wire tattoo on her arm and some fakey Celtic tattoo down there where her thong rides up.

So where does this leave us? In a post-ironic, litmus-test patriotism world, hungering for a new direction for the steel guitar, and the Crazy Heart cast is up to the task. While the oldsters are worth a listen, the new sound of Bridges/Bingham is the reason to add this to your iTunes account. Farrell’s “Fallin’ and Flyin'” has it all — intentional typographic corn pone, a lyric about cheatin’ and lyin’, and a sound that says “I have an iPad and iPhone and a Facebook, but I use the same hair tonic Hank Williams used.” “Gone, Gone, Gone” suffers from top-notch steel guitar, authentic Fender vacuum tube amplifiers, and the possibility of an auto-tune patch-up, and sounds like a three-day bender ought to. Jeff Bridges’ “Brand New Angle” is perhaps a bit too depressing; it’s not the Tom Waits grade vocals but the Dylan style “Time Out of Mind” suicidal lyrics that make you wish you had just one more bottle of Robitussin and one more bottle of gin to wash it down with. Yes, my friends, the highest and best use of country music is to justify your biggest screw-ups, and then to dull the pain while you roll around in the mud of your own self-pity. I think I need to go punch out a cop, just so I can do 30 days in the county cooler and forget about her. You remember — old what’s her name. God I miss her.

Crazy Heart: • New West:

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