The soundtrack album for local filmmaker Craig Brewer's upcoming Black Snake Moan (opening February 23rd) is, more than anything, an overdue coming-out party for Memphis producer/engineer/composer/bandleader Scott Bomar.
Bomar crafted a terrific, Stax-like score for Brewer's previous film, Hustle & Flow, but the only soundtrack CD to emerge didn't feature any of it. It was a collection of rap tracks, some featured prominently in the movie, some not.
Black Snake Moan is less focused on music than was Hustle & Flow. Though star Samuel L. Jackson performs blues songs in the film, his music isn't as important or as prevalent as that of Terrence Howard's D'Jay character in Hustle & Flow. And yet this is a soundtrack that's more representative of the movie than Hustle & Flow's was, and that starts with Bomar.
Bomar served as soundtrack producer, and the result includes three selections (totaling four-and-a-half minutes) of Bomar's bluesy, atmospheric score (Ennio Morricone gone hill country is how the liner notes aptly describe it), which he recorded locally at Ardent Studios with help from the Dickinson family (soundtrack-vet pop Jim and North Mississippi Allstar sons Luther and Cody) and harmonica ace Charlie Musselwhite. It also includes all four blues performances Jackson gives in the movie, which were also produced by Bomar at Ardent, with a rotating cast of locals helping Jackson (Kenny Brown, Jason Freeman, Cedric Burnside, Luther Dickinson).
The transformation of Jackson into an R.L. Burnside-like hill-country blues singer is at least as convincing as Howard's transformation into a Memphis-style rapper, though a bit of the charisma that sells the transformation is lost without visual accompaniment.
As in the movie, stomping live versions of Burnside's "Alice Mae" and the standard "Stackolee" trump the slow-burn blues of Burnside's "Just Like a Bird Without a Feather" and the Blind Lemon Jefferson classic that provides the film's title. On the "juke-joint" cuts, Jackson not only has Brown and Burnside house-rocking behind him, he gets to really perform the songs. On the quieter, ostensibly solo, numbers, his lack of authenticity is a little more apparent.
The Bomar and Jackson cuts are the heart of this soundtrack (along with a couple of Son House sound bites), but the "filler" is pretty choice too. The record ends the way the movie does, with the North Mississippi Allstars' evocative blues-scene reverie "Mean Ol' Wind Died Down." Cuts from Burnside himself ("Old Black Mattie") and hill-country matriarch Jessie Mae Hemphill ("Standing in My Doorway Crying") feel essential. Contributions from blues stalwarts Bobby Rush and Precious Bryant and rock bands the Black Keys and Outrageous Cherry fit. The only track a little out of place is "The Losing Kind," a bluesy cut from post-punk veteran John Doe. -- Chris Herrington