Vanguard Records, 2001

REVIEW BY: Duke Egbert


Sometimes, the Pierce Memorial Archives (South Annex) get a little ahead of yours truly, too. I should have gotten around to the soundtrack of Songcatcher long before this, but it got buried in a stack somewhere -- much, apparently, like the movie, which never came within artillery range of Indianapolis, and which I've never seen.

Damn shame. Sounds like a cool movie, from what I can find out. The basic plot revolves around a female musicologist denied tenure who flees into the Appalachians to visit a sister teaching there, and then accidentally discovers a motherlode of mountain music, unchanged by years of isolation. (This is the ethnomusicological equivalent of King Tut's Tomb, for those looking confused). Needless to say, the soundtrack reflects the movie, much more than a manufactured Top Forty hit running over the credits. This is a solid block of traditional American roots music.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

(Just as a side note, it also did its job; increased interest in the movie. I surfed out to my DVD rental service and reserved the movie today.)

So, I hear the DV Faithful ask, is it any good? If you like roots music, the answer is a definite yes. The entire movie/soundtrack combination immediately put me to mind of another low-key movie, The Secret Of Roan Inish -- good movie, good soundtrack, and both can hang together on their own merit. Yes, there are some moments that are hard on listeners brought up on slick, packaged sound; Emmy Rossum's traditional version of "Barbara Allen" comes to mind. But there are also some breathtaking moments; Emmylou Harris' version of the same song, all of Dolly Parton's work (and I'd just like to say that it's immensely cool that Dolly Parton has gone back to her roots. Beats hell out of covering bad REO Speedwagon songs to get country airplay), and the work of Roseanne Cash, Iris Dement, and Patty Loveless. By far, though, the highlight is Maria McKee's cover of "Wayfarin' Stranger". McKee has always been a brilliant, incandescent vocalist, from her eighties work with Lone Justice forward; she records too damn little, and this was a treat.

Songcatcher is exactly what it says it is; there's no concession to pop sensibilities here, this is mountain music, perhaps reinterpreted, but definitely the real thing. With that caveat, it's a great CD.

Rating: A-

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 2002 Duke Egbert and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Vanguard Records, and is used for informational purposes only.