If “Southern Gothic” were a musical genre, the term could be used to describe True Blood: Music from the HBO Original Series, Vol. 3. Based on Charlaine Harris’s best-selling Southern Vampire Mysteries novels, the popular supernatural action-drama is set in an alternate reality in which vampires have “come out of the coffin” and live alongside humans. For the latest soundtrack, music supervisor and soundtrack producer Gary Calamar cherry-picks from different branches of southern music and spins a sinister thread throughout, creating a mixture of country, rock, and soul straight out of the Louisiana swamp or a seedy vampire bar.
In the album’s accompanying booklet, the show’s creator, Alan Ball, explains that music is a vital part of creating True Blood. Music inspires the writers, sets the tone each week, and often provides episode titles. The third installment of the soundtrack pulls selections from the third and fourth seasons of the show, during which the residents of Bon Temps, Louisiana, battle everything from psychopathic vampires to werewolves and a murderous, reincarnated witch.
True Blood: Vol. 3 very appropriately opens with “Season of the Witch” by Karen Elson, featuring Donovan. Elson’s striking vocals on the surreal Donovan cover set the tone for the multi-dimensional soundtrack. Though each song is distinct, they all flow into each other seamlessly through the bond of southern swagger. Punk-influenced peaks are provided by “Hitting the Ground” by Gordon Gano and PJ Harvey and “Spellbound” by Siouxsie and the Banshees. Damien Rice’s “9 Crimes” digs moody and mellow valleys, and the gentle harmonies of Gary Louris and Jakob Dylan create a similar mood on “Gonna Be A Darkness.” Songs from genres such as hip hop-soul, classic country, and rhythm and blues are all at home onthe show. The album’s standout tracks include The Heavy’s soulful, bluesy cover of “And When I Die” as well as Nick Cave and Neko Case’s re-imagination of The Zombies’ classic “She’s Not There.”
The standard version of True Blood: Vol. 3 ends with the show’s theme song, Jace Everett’s raunchy country-rock single “Bad Things.” The deluxe version, though, includes four additional covers. The first is Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s version of “Bad Things,” a more percussive, funhouse-mirror version of Everett’s tongue-in-cheek, guitar-driven sound. The remaining three are additional covers of “She’s Not There” performed by Dick Isreal and the Soothsayer, L’Avventura, and Paper Pilots. While having four versions of the same song on one album begs the question of why four songs are needed to address her absence, each stands on its own, and the schizophrenia of having these multiple covers fits with the characters’ frequent duality in True Blood’s fourth season in a weirdly perfect way.
True Blood: Vol. 3 does exactly what a soundtrack should. The album captures the mood of its inspiration while also generating a continued interest in the artists featured on the fourteen tracks–eighteen on the deluxe version. This is music with a southern drawl at some points, a citified liveliness at others, and always plenty of attitude.