I love Stephen King. I love John “Cougar” Mellencamp. And, yes, I am aware he dropped the “Cougar” some time ago but that’s what I’ve always known him as so I don’t really care. I also love producer T-Bone Burnett’s work. So when I first heard about this project, I was intrigued.
The legend goes, that in the 1990’s Stephen King received a phone call from Mellencamp that began with “Hey, this is John Mellencamp, I’d like to talk to you about an idea for a play I’ve got.” The idea was loosely based on an event that had happened decades earlier on Mellencamp’s Indiana property. From there the idea began to take shape and grow.
Ghost Brothers Of Darkland County centers around two sets of brothers: Jack and Andy are ghosts, killed in an apparent murder/suicide after escalated feuding; and their nephews, Frank and Drake, who are still alive but seem destined to follow the same dire path as their ghostly uncles. There is also Joe, the father of Frank and Drake and the younger brother of the deceased Andy and Jack. Joe decides he has his own secrets to reveal in hopes of staying the inevitable tragedy that his family seems marked for.
The events are narrated by a character known as “The Shape,” who seems to be some devilish being.
While the stage production has gotten mixed reviews, it is limited in its runs and has not played anywhere near enough for me to catch. When this soundtrack showed up in the mail, I was excited. Some of which died as soon as I saw Sheryl Crow on the artists roster. Blech!
There are over thirty tracks on this CD, more than half being snippets of dialogue from the play, read by an array of actors who include: Matthew McConaughey, Meg Ryan, Samantha Mathis, Hamish Linklater, and others.
Interspersed among the shards of dialogue are the songs, all penned by Mellencamp and performed by some of the biggest names in songwriting famedom: Elvis Costello, Neko Case, Kris Kristofferson, Ryan Bingham,Dave Alvin, Taj Mahal, and—sigh—Sheryl Crow…
Since I have never seen the play and all I had to go on, so far as story synopsis, was what I could dig up online and in the liner notes of this soundtrack, it’s a bit of a confusing listen. The dialogue is jarring and abrupt in its segues to the music.
The music is a mish-mash of Americana-tinged folk and ragged bluesy country/rock. When it’s on…it’s really on. An example being Neko Case’s incredible “That’s Who I Am,” which brings to mind classic Patsy Cline. Elvis Costello is at his kitschy, chameleonic best with his entries “That’s Me” and “Wrong, Wrong, Wrong About Me.” Dave and Phil Alvin—feuding brothers who seemed destined for destruction at one point—team up on a number or edgy, raw blues blasts. And the raw and ravaged voice of Kris Kristofferson works so well as the voice of the weary Uncle Joe.
On the whole, I’d say I like the music. I think it would be a better listen if it was just the music. Leave the samples of dialogue out of it and let the music speak for itself. It would be a clearer, more enticing device. That said, I hope to get the chance to check out the complete work some day, without having to drive for days to do so.