Whether it was in reaction to the screener situation or T Bone Burnett’s experiences with taking the “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” performers on the road, Miramax presented at UCLA’s Royce Hall a delightfully homespun introduction to the music of “Cold Mountain,” peppered with clips and readings from the pic’s stars and director. Civil War mountain music may be a tough sell, but the care put in by film’s music producer, Burnett; the glorious voice of Alison Krauss; and the presence of the white-hot Jack White provide the soundtrack with commercial viability.
Event, a benefit for a Tennessee food bank, opened with White singing about as calm a version of “The Wayfaring Stranger” as you’re ever likely to hear. Accompanied as he was throughout the night by mandolin, fiddle, banjo and his own guitar, White crawled inside a bluesy “Sittin’ on Top of the World” in similar fashion; his nuanced perf exposed a hushed side of the rocker rarely exposed in his act the White Stripes.
Krauss sang the two songs composed for the film, “The Scarlet Tide,” by Elvis Costello and Burnett, and Sting’s “You Will Be My Ain True Love,” which featured the songwriter providing haunting and distant harmonies. Krauss, who in her music straddles a self-drawn line between bluegrass and pop, sounds otherworldly on this material. Her perf was as breathtaking in its unadorned stillness as the full-force rapid-fire hymn sung by the Sacred Harp Singers at Liberty Church.
The songs of “Cold Mountain” as not as wide-ranging as Burnett’s best-known soundtracks, “O Brother” and “The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood.” But the pensive and organic nature of the music makes it stand alone among other recent soundtracks that attempt to strike a singular mood with pop tunes, “Love Actually” and “Mona Lisa Smile” being the most prominent.
It’s doubtful “Cold Mountain” can become a cottage industry the way “O Brother” did — 4 million copies sold, the record of the year Grammy, a followup live disc and two successful U.S. tours — but the music provides a valuable history lesson that should open ears as much as the story opens hearts.
During a half-hour interview session, Minghella delivered eloquent explanations of the creative process in adapting Charles Frazier’s novel. At one point, though, he casually mentioned collecting 1,000 songs for possible inclusion. Seeing as how this was a musical event, it would have added considerable depth to the aud’s understanding of the pic if his thoughts on the music selection could have been explained further.
Sony will release the CD Tuesday; pic opens Dec. 25. Footage from the event and backstage will air Christmas Day on cabler CMT’s top-20 countdown show.