Director Anthony Minghella's take on Charles Frazier's bestselling novel, Cold Mountain
, is powered by wistful romanticism and a dramatic structure that's been compared to Homer's Odyssey
. That latter creative tack parallels the Coens' O Brother, Where Art Thou
in crucial ways, and is further enhanced by another T-Bone-Burnett-produced soundtrack of Appalachian-inflected folk traditionals, sympathetic originals by diverse songwriters (Elvis Costello and Sting), and a core of gritty performances (the White Stripe's Jack White and Alison Krauss) that rise above mere star appeal.
White shows his traditional blues jones is no mere affectation on "Wayfaring Stranger" and a cover of Howlin' Wolf's "Sittin' on Top of the World", then makes a rewarding turn into the wistfully romantic with his original "Never Far Away". Krauss gives a haunting performance of Costello's "The Scarlet Tide" but doesn't fare as well with Sting's plaintive, Celtic-tinged "You Will Be My True Love". The soundtrack's evocative sense of time and place is further underscored by traditionals performed by a slate of other bluegrass/country-folk heavyweights and a powerful pair of gospelised, almost ethereal performances by the Sacred Harp Singers at Liberty Church. A few of Gabriel Yared's gentle orchestral cues (crucial to the film's characters and dramatic continuity) are essentially tacked on as the coda to the remaining collection of earthy Americana. Dark, dusty and ever bittersweet, Burnett's musical archaeology here is something considerably more than merely "O Brother Redux". --Jerry McCulley