There have been countless movies based on the lives of both real and fictional musicians, from the 1927 classic ‘The Jazz Singer” to more recent affairs like ‘Ray” and ‘Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story.” Such films are almost always accompanied by a viable soundtrack. ‘Crazy Heart,” a film about the fictional country singer Bad Blake, is the newest addition to the long lineage of movies based on musicians. However, the focus of this review is on its fantastic soundtrack.
The ‘Crazy Heart” soundtrack includes songs created especially for characters in the film as well as existing music from other artists. Together, they fo
rm a cohesive release that predominately stays within the broad genre of country.
The biggest exception is a brief but poignant foray into the blues with the song ‘Once a Gambler,” by Lightnin’ Hopkins. The deluxe version of the soundtrack has additional diversions from the core of the genre, with music ranging from the Tejano style of Lydia Mendoza to the smooth roots-country harmonizing of the Delmore Brothers.
Both versions of the soundtrack include music by Buck Owens, the Louvin Brothers, Waylon Jennings and Townes Van Zandt. This makes the soundtrack not only a fun listen but also a lesson in the history of country music.
Although these selections are excellent additions to the soundtrack, perhaps the biggest draw is the music created specifically for ‘Crazy Heart.” Produced and written by a crew that includes Stephen Bruton and T-Bone Burnett, the music created for the film manages to hold its own against the country greats also included on the soundtrack.
The most impressive feat is not only that the original music is comparable to the other songs, but that the music created for Blake sounds as unique as it does. The easy route would have been to simply copy some existing country singer’s persona or sound and re-package it in the form of Bad Blake. However, the team responsible for creating the songs encompassed such a wide array of influences in creating Blake’s sound that the results don’t closely resemble anybody else. Instead, it feels like Blake is a real country legend, someone who would have toured alongside Johnny Cash or Willie Nelson.
Much of the credit for this sound should also go to Jeff Bridges, who not only plays Bad Blake in the film but also does his own singing. Bridges’ voice is well suited for the material, residing comfortably in a lower register. His sound could draw comparison to Muddy Waters or Johnny Cash, but he still makes it his own. Blake’s material covers an admirable range of emotions and sounds. ‘Hold on You” is a slow march that instrumentally bears a slight resemblance to the R’B classic ‘Spanish Harlem.”
‘Fallin’ ‘ Flyin’,” Blake’s big hit in the movie, is an enjoyable, upbeat number that sounds like a cross between Buddy Holly and honky-tonk style country.
The most interesting song in Bad Blake’s repertoire is the somber ‘Brand New Angel.” Accompanied by an acoustic backing band, Bridges’voice has room to express the emotions of the song without too many distractions.
Colin Farrell, who plays Blake’s protg Tommy Sweet, also sings some of the soundtrack’s original material. The song ‘Gone, Gone, Gone” is Sweet’s big number and probably the most enjoyable piece on the entire record. While certainly not the most serious of the songs here, the lively electric bluegrass flavor of the song is hard to resist.
One last major highlight on the record is the theme from the movie ‘Crazy Heart,” entitled ‘The Weary Kind.” Sung by Ryan Bingham, the song is a sad acoustic number that emphasizes the overall feeling of the rest of the album.
Although the soundtrack to the movie ‘Crazy Heart” spans the genre of country with songs that are both upbeat and dark, ‘The Weary Kind” suggests that the trend points more towards the latter.
After all, the movie itself focuses on Blake not as a star, but as a washed up has-been. Placing ‘The Weary Kind” at the end of the album may make sense in relation to the movie, but it also creates a melancholy feel that remains unresolved.
Even without having seen the movie, for the soundtrack to end with such uncertainty is a reassertion of how believable a musical figure Bad Blake is. He seems human instead of a fictional hero, and with a life of success and failure of the sort to be found in the soundtrack of ‘Crazy Heart.”
Berris is a member of the class of 2012.