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Music Review: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack – Get Low

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The producers of Get Low, a film starring Robert Duvall and Bill Murray, have no doubt taken the success of the Oh Brother soundtrack to heart. That earlier collection, also on Rounder Records, was a surprise hit, leading to a genuine revival of acoustic-based roots music that seemed to come from a more honest age when music was more about expression than artifice. The Get Low soundtrack takes the same approach, with a mix of old and new effectively capturing the essence of an era.

Get Low tells the supposedly true story of one Felix Bush, a Tennessee hermit who, in 1933, organized his own ‘living funeral,’ intending to sit back and see what others had to say about him while he could still take it all in. By all accounts the picture is period-perfect, and Duvall is mesmerizing in a role that seems made to measure. Fortunately, the soundtrack holds up just as well.

Opening with a song from the angelic Alison Krauss, the collection leans to new recordings, with three from nu-grass stars The Steeldrivers mixed with atmospheric instrumentals from Jan A.P. Kaczmarek and dobro genius Jerry Douglas. Also in the mix are original recordings by The Ink Spots (“If I Didn’t Care”) and Paul Whiteman and his Orchestra (“Farewell Blues), along with timeless ditties from Bix Beiderbecke (the classic “I’m Looking Over A Four-Leaf Clover”) and “My Blue Heaven” courtesy of Gene Austin.

Krauss, backed by members of Union Station, delivers a typically stunning performance of “Lay My Burden Down,” her voice an absolute marvel of ethereal purity. The Steeldrivers, rising stars in the world of bluegrass for a (relatively – this is bluegrass, after all) adventurous approach that blends raw, bluesy vocals with the intricate instrumental interplay the genre is known for, contribute the harrowing “Jesus Come For Me” along with traditional “Whiskey Before Breakfast” and “East Virginia Reel.”

Juxtaposing the old and new can be a bit disconcerting; there’s a vast difference between the rollicking Beiderbecke track and the moody, impressionistic pieces that fill out the soundtrack. Without the benefit of visual images and a story to hang on to, the music seems to serve distinctly different purposes. But the score, for the most part composed by Kaczmarek (Douglas and cohort Stuart Duncan, equally adept at fiddle, mandolin, and banjo, contribute a couple as well) effectively bridges any musical gaps.  Instrumental interludes are for the most part fully realized pieces that work well on their own, and the shorter bits that aren’t quite as developed provide effective segues that maintain the mood nicely.

The careful matching of music and image can vastly increase a film’s emotional impact, and it follows that most soundtracks are weakened when taken ‘out of context.’ Whether new or old recordings, though, Get Low’s soundtrack paints a varied and colorful portrait of a vanished era, alternating the brash and brassy (Whiteman) with sepia-toned sounds that lovingly evoke simpler times.

Me, I can’t wait to see the movie!

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