This official soundtrack features the cast belting out country and rock hits by Cash, his wife June Carter, Jerry Lee Lewis and other greats from the early days of rock 'n roll.
Yet while the movie is a marvellous, inspiring and beautifully crafted the sound track is polished and pleasant but never remarkable. When listened to as part of the film, surrounded by director James Mangold's gorgeous visuals, the performances take on a special resonance. But, when they are separated from the silver screening's beguiling influences, you inevitably begin to notice cracks, flat notes, and mediocre passages of instrumentation.
Not that any of the songs on the CD could be classed as "bad". The passion and spirit in Phoenix and Witherspoon's performances put many seasoned musicians to shame. But passion can only carry you so far and, as brilliantly as they have done, they still lack the flair and presence that make for truly world-class performances.You could argue that with more formal training Phoenix and Witherspoon might be able to do better. While there might be some truth in this, it's contradicted by the other contributors on the album, all of whom are professional musicians (in fact they were cast for this very reason). Their performances are, if anything, weaker than their supposedly "untrained" counterparts. Tyler Hilton is particularly weak - belting out a pair of early Elvis hits with little charm and zero sex appeal.
Another drawback is that Walk the Line is basically a covers album. Of course many of the greatest hits in history have been cover versions, so much so that people don't know who wrote the original. Take Whitney's drama queen cover of Dolly Parton's "I Will Always Love You". But to make the bigtime, the covering artist must add a new dimension to the song. And, as heartfelt as this soundtrack is, the artists here fail to really make the music their own. That wasn't the point..
Despite its weaknesses the album is still excellently produced. Veteran muso T Bone Burnett - who acted as executive music producer on the film - is the steady hand that lends the soundtrack its unmistakably professional polish and won his colleagues a BAFTA for sound and a best soundtrack nomination. (Burnett is no stranger to soundtracks. His first foray into the field - in the Coen brothers' O Brother, Where Art Thou? - earned him several international awards, while his work on 2003's Cold Mountain earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Original Song.)
As an album Walk the Line amounts to a nostalgic curiosity for fans of the movie. Hardcore fans of Cash's music won't find much here to excite them, and may even be horrified by a few of the renditions. Still, as an introduction to Johnny Cash, you could do far worse. At least everyone on this album cares about getting the material right - even if they don't manage to 100 percent of the time.
- Alistair Fairweather
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