Thursday , April 25 2024
Who needs the movie when you've got the music that inspired it in the first place?

Music Review: Music From The Motion Picture Black Snake Moan

"The blues is not a plaything like some people think they are."
— Son House (1902-1988) —

Sitting here in my relatively peaceful home, I'm listening to a small sampling of life at its grittiest. While not the most original collection of blues to come down the river, Music From The Motion Picture Black Snake Moan is an album that caught me completely off guard. Soundtrack records aren't supposed to have their own soul, much less appear to have sold it to the devil in order to be able to hum with a vitality and life separate from the movie it is supposedly tied to, right? This one must have, though.

Packed deep with songs from amazing artists such as Son House, Jessie Mae Hemphill, R. L. Burnside, Bobby Rush, The Black Keys, John Doe, Scott Bomar, the North Mississippi All-Stars, Outrageous Cherry, and Samuel L. Jackson — that's right, I'm including Samuel L. Jackson in that list — this album flips the usual script. Instead of being created to support and compliment the movie, I'm firmly of the opinion that the movie only exists to give life to this soundtrack.

On just the opening track alone, the talent and determination on this album is made abundantly clear, and it only lasts 38 seconds. Packed within that small slice of music lie the musical talents of Jim Dickinson on Wurlitzer piano, backed by his sons Luther and Cody of the North Mississippi All-Stars, Charlie Musselwhite on harmonica (need I say more on that one?), along with some cicadas. It's an excellent omen of what is to come.

Here's the track-listing:

01. Opening Theme — Scott Bomar
02. Ain't But One Kind Of Blues — Son House
03. Just Like A Birth Without A Feather — Samuel L. Jackson
04. When The Lights Go Out — The Black Keys
05. Standing In My Doorway Crying — Jessie Mae Hemphill
06. Chicken Heads — Bobby Rush
07. Black Snake Moan — Samuel L. Jackson
08. Morning Train — Precious Bryant
09. The Losing Kind —John Doe
10. Lord Have Mercy On Me — Outrageous Cherry
11. Ronnie and Rae's Theme — Scott Bomar
12. The Chain — Scott Bomar
13. Alice Mae — Samuel L. Jackson
14. Stackolee — Samuel L. Jackson
15. Old Black Mattie — R. L. Burnside
16. That's Where The Blues Started — Son House
17. Mean 'ol Wind Died Down — North Mississippi All-Stars

Before I walk away from this review and settle down to listen to this album once again, I want to talk about Samuel L. Jackson's part of this soundtrack. We all know what kind of actor he is, but it surprised the hell out of me that he was able to give the vocal performance that he did on these songs. Of course, some will say, he's an actor and he can use that ability to act as a blues singer. Tell that to Bruce Willis and Don Johnson.

Jackson actually has a damned good voice for the blues. I'm not saying I'd run out and pound the pavement while demanding that he give up his acting career so that he could start recording and releasing blues records, but if there are a few more "unreleased" tracks that he cut for this movie, I wouldn't mind hearing them.

Which leads me to the second item that I've had the wonderful opportunity to review, dealing with the music of Black Snake Moan. Still in my bedroom record-player, is a copy of the limited edition 7" vinyl single that was released to promote the release of the movie itself. Consisting of two of the four songs from the soundtrack — "Stackolee" and the Blind Lemon Jefferson track which inspired the name of the movie itself, "Black Snake Moan" — it may be one of the cooler things I've ever gotten to review.

Jackson's voice is perfect on the two tracks, as is the packaging of the single itself. Even though it's only a 7" record, the art on the sleeve is still bigger than that on the soundtrack's CD booklet, and somehow looks cooler, to boot.

Forgetting the art, though, I must say that the vinyl sounds so good that I wish they'd have released a vinyl version of the entire soundtrack album. Ah well.

About Michael Jones

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