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Various Artists

Ghost Brothers of Darkland County – 2013 (Hear Music)

Reviewed by Lee Zimmerman

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It may seem an unlikely collaboration at first encounter, this combination of talents that involves noted master of the macabre Stephen King and those heroes of the heartland John Mellencamp and T Bone Burnett. And indeed, given even a cursory listen to the soundtrack to this unusual modern musical, it's strange indeed how these disparate elements jive. The story is bizarre enough - no surprise there considering it's King's concept. Two brothers die in a bizarre murder/suicide, and their spirits come back to haunt their nephews, leading all to suspect they're destined to suffer the same fate.

While the plot isn't immediately obvious for those relying solely on the spoken dialogue interspersed with the songs, one gets the sense that like many of King's writings, the storyline will eventually get flushed out later on. The main attraction at the moment is the cast of contributors, specifically a disparate musical line-up that includes an A list of top talent - Kris Kristofferson, Rosanne Cash, Neko Case, Dave Alvin, Sheryl Crow, Elvis Costello, Taj Mahal and Ryan Bingham among them. (That's not even mentioning Matthew McConaughey and Meg Ryan who lend their voices to the main roles.)

The songs that stand out reflect the diverse talents of the musicians - and oftentimes in unexpected ways - be it Costello's casual croon on That's Me, Case's sassy set-up with That's Who I Am or Kristofferson's swampy saunter on How Many Days. All add to the murky Mississippi ambiance that sets the scene, although with some exceptions - the compelling Home Again, featuring Crow, Dave and Phil Alvin and Taj Mahal, and the closer, Truth, a Mellencamp composition - each is best heard as part of the whole as opposed to stand-alone entries.

Overall, however, "Ghost Brothers of Darkland County" is an intriguing exercise, an idea that's rarely executed as well. It's certainly a terrific attempt at solid escapism, and considering the cast of creative minds involved, it's a collection that deserves high marks for both concept and creativity.