Occasionally, a soundtrack is a great record in its own right. I have no idea what kind of movie Big Bad Love is, or whether it'll ever open in a theater near me. But this atmospheric collection has its own stories to tell.
If it were nothing else, this would be a fabulous introduction to the blues world encompassed by the Fat Possum record label. More than half the artists on this Nonesuch disc have records out on that imprint, and this ain't your daddy's blues - unless your daddy has been plowing North Mississippi soil for three or four decades. All those well-fed blues stars who made amazing music 50 years ago (and thoroughly deserve their comfort, but might oughtta stop making records) seem pretty obsolete in the face of T-Model Ford's raw "She Asked Me So I Told Her." And white kids who think they've discovered the path to credibility in a half-functioning vintage microphone should hear the way their studio tricks sound when the late Asie Payton is the vocalist behind them.
The picture is fleshed out by white guys who've seen more of the world than suburban angst: Steve Earle, with a touching acoustic version of a song ("Goodbye") that broke hearts on Emmylou Harris' Wrecking Ball; Television's Tom Verlaine, who bridges the gap between the blues and the '70s New York punk scene, then composes an ethereal guitar solo for accompaniment by the Kronos Quartet; Tom Waits, who wrote two original songs for the record. A lot of us would only give this disc a second look thanks to those exclusive Waits tracks (one of which, "Long Way Home" is a little treasure) - this Waits devotee, for one, can admit they're just the tip of the iceberg.