Any T Bone Burnett-produced film soundtrack is a rock-solid lock to haul off a wagon full of awards. "Walk the Line" and "O Brother, Where Art Thou" are proof of Burnett's uncanny ability to seamlessly blend film and song. But the new film, "Crazy Heart," offered several challenges. Not only did Burnett have to transform actors Jeff Bridges and Colin Farrell into authentic country artists who do their own singing and playing, he also needed several original songs with hit appeal.
Score on both counts for Burnett. Bridges' believability as washed-up honky-tonker Bad Blake is Oscar-worthy, and the original cuts are catchy, infectious and meaningful. Bridges' reed-thin vocals occasionally get lost in the soundtrack's mix, but in a sense that's part of the story as a long-past-his-prime singer performing in back-road bars and bowling alleys. Farrell, playing former Blake protege-turned-megastar Tommy Sweet, turns in a fine vocal performance with the Ryan Bingham-penned Gone, Gone, Gone.
Yet, an all Bridges-Farrell album would have been too much, and Burnett wisely sprinkles in oldies from the likes of Waylon Jennings, Buck Owens and Townes Van Zandt. But it's two relative unknowns (to the masses) - the late Stephen Bruton and Texas singer-songwriter Bingham - who deserve much of the credit for the depth and power of the original music.
Bruton, who last year died of cancer, served as a model for Blake's character (think milk-bottle scene early in the flick), but more importantly co-wrote the bulk of the new music. Bingham wrote and performs the movie's theme The Weary Kind.
If the point of soundtrack is to amplify and color a storyline, "Crazy Heart" hits all the notes. Honestly performed and well-written, it's another stellar effort from Burnett.