Various Artists "Down from the Mountain"; The Faint "Danse Macabre"
Now Hear This
Various Artists "Down from the Mountain" (Lost Highway) - Soundtrack sequels are usually bad ideas. Typically, these albums contain songs that aren't even featured in the movie and exist only as product-moving vehicles for box-office blockbusters. Thankfully, this is not the case with "Down From the Mountain," the follow-up to the hugely successful "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" This CD offers a solid collection of live recordings culled from a May 24, 2000, performance in Nashville. There is no unnecessary rehashing here these tunes were truly inspired by the film and are presented in an entirely different context. Many of the same artists (Emmylou Harris, John Hartford, Alison Krauss, Gillian Welch, the Cox Family, the Fairfield Four and the Whites) return and take a stab at different songs. The only exceptions are Gillian Welch and Alison Krauss' rendition of "I'll Fly Away" and The Cox Family's version of "I Am Weary (Let Me Rest)," which appeared as studio takes on the original. Other standout tracks include Welch and David Rawling's ironic "I Want to Sing that Rock and Roll" and the Whites' salute to the traditional finger-pickin' gem "Sandy Land." "Down From The Mountain" is not as immediately striking as "O Brother." It does, however, provide a thoroughly enjoyable listening experience and excellent document of traditional American folk music. Bret Booth
The Faint "Danse Macabre" (Saddle Creek) - For the casual listener born after 1980, The Faint will sound new and different. The Faint resurrect the synthesizer and the electronic sampler again, this time for "Danse Macabre," a solid and impressive improvement over 1999's "Blank-Wave Arcade" when the Omaha band first came at us with its new millennium new wave. For the listener initiated in Duran Duran, Joy Division, The Cure, Gary Numan and all the other new-wave and gloom-rock English bands of the early '80s, this disc offers welcome respite when you think you can't possibly take another blues-inspired three-chord rock song.
The Faint say what many of us have been thinking for a while now: "Enough with the guitar already!" Instead, they've binged in the electro-punk thrift store and emerge with blank-wave as they call it, just like Duran Duran admirers weaned on '90s cynicism would. Seeing them live, dancing gleefully to industrial beats and synthesized vocals, you get the feeling that you're peering over the flailing audience and over the stage into an inside joke. Here's this professional, well-rehearsed band playing synthed-out, totally danceable music, all pasted together from other decades, with everything from elements of punk to Goth to new-wave to '70s and '90s disco beats. The Faint seem to be saying, "This is it. It's all over but the last retro hurrah before the lights go out on this 50-year-old industry and we have to come up with something new." Or maybe they just wanted to make good dance music. They did, and for that "Danse Macabre" is highly recommended. Wayne Melton