by Marty Demarest
So many current films seem to be the products of record companies. With soundtracks that often rival the films in interest, it's easy to imagine that Hollywood -- always on the lookout for new formulas to exploit -- simply started pulling together lists of popular musicians with good sales records and gave the results to screenwriters to concoct stories around. If the musicians and singers can be given a small cameo -- think P!nk in the horrific Rollerball or Mark McGrath in the abominable Scooby-Doo -- it must seem even, ahem, better.
It's particularly refreshing, then, to run across a soundtrack that seems to be a reflection of the film, rather than just a conglomeration of hopefully trendy tunes. The soundtrack for Ghost World was one example of the genre done right, and the runaway success of O Brother Where Art Thou? even affected the recording industry in general, giving rise to an increase in Americana releases.
With the soundtrack for The Divine Secrets produced by T Bone Burnett, who also produced the soundtrack for O Brother, it's easy to let your expectations rise. The fact that he's assembled artists as diverse as Tony Bennett, Bob Dylan and Ray Charles doesn't hurt either. But unfortunately, the overall effect, which attempts to unite these artists with some traditional Cajun and jazz works, fails to overwhelm in the way that Burnett's other work has.
That's not to say that there aren't some very good individual pieces on Divine Secrets. Macy Gray is incredible, and not a little like Billie Holliday, when she steps into a boozy New Orleans-soaked performance of "I Want to be Your Mother's Son-In-Law." Mahalia Jackson is, as usual, both a little awe-inspiring and frightening as she dishes out religious revelation in "Walk in Jerusalem." And Vincent & amp; Mr. Green deliver a great trip-hop track appropriately entitled "Drug State." Several recordings of Ann Savoy singing traditional songs like "C'est Si Triste" and "Lulu Revenue Dans La Village" will also please fans of Cajun music.
But great parts do not make a complete listening experience. Most of the tracks work on their own, but taken together, feel like a whirlwind tour from the inner city to the swamp; and instead of a strong sense of shared identity, there's only a nominal connection: the South. Maybe that complicated region of the country is just too diverse to be summed up in a few songs, or perhaps Burnett didn't work as hard as he has in the past. In any case, unless you're a fan of one or more of the artists present, buy a plane ticket for the real experience -- it's much more cohesive.