[5th November 2013]
01. Devil’s Dream – Tim Fain
02. Roll Jordan Roll – John Legend
03. Freight Train – Gary Clark Jr.
04. Yarney’s Waltz – Tim Fain and Caitlin Sullivan
05. Driva Man – Alabama Shakes - David Hughey and Roosevelt Credit
06. My Lord Sunshine (Sunrise) - David Hughey and Roosevelt Credit
07. Move - John Legend featuring Fink
08. Washington – Hans Zimmer
09. (In the Evening) When the Sun Goes Down – Gary Clark Jr.
10. Queen of the Field (Patsey’s Song) – Alicia Keys
11. Solomon – Hans Zimmer
12. Little Girl Blue – Laura Mvula
13. Misery Chain – Chris Cornell featuring Joy Williams
14. Roll Jordan Roll - Topsy Chapman featuring Chiwetel Ejiofor and Cast
15. Money Musk - Tim Fain
16. What Does Freedom Mean (To a Free Man) – Cody Chesnutt
This is the first of what is a bit of a new idea for The Monolith: to review soundtracks, and sometimes review them prior to even seeing the film. This is fortunately quite a solid choice for the inaugural post, as Steve McQueen’s new historical epic 12 Years a Slave has produced an album that can most certainly be listened to on its own. Hell, its supposed to be independently listened to since it features songs that weren’t even in the film.
Music from and Inspired by 12 Years a Slave kicks off with a jolt; fiddles playfully introducing the album, and it’s not long before the second track kicks in with a heart wrenching accapella tune, with soulfulness cranked up to maximum. Gorgeous harmonies, slow but keen voices, humming and singing; all are present and accounted for to transport the listener back to the hot, woeful, melancholy summers of slavery.
The tracks continue on, with sweet guitars used with the intent of invoking retrospective pain, but they also compliment the continuation of bluesy vocals and the invocation of humid Southern summer days. Further along come the pianos, the banjos, the tambourines; all working in tandem to bring the atmosphere to our ears and paint the picture in our minds. The entire album is bathed in a reminscent haunt of perfect reverb. The past echoing its permanence in history through the chants, harmonies, and wails, unifying the whole piece as one testament to the blood, sweat, and tears shed in America’s sorrowful history.
The album boasts a large selection of genres to represent the movie’s heavy subject matter, from country road hum-alongs, to slow croons over tense jazz instrumentation. Despite the clearly sorrowful tinge on many of the album’s songs, and its emotionally loaded content, the album feels relatively light in terms of listenability. It’s the kind of compilation that could easily be thrown on for any around-the-house occasion while also being more than able to hold its own for the types of listeners that like to sit through an entire album, eyes closed.
And while it’s not exactly boundary pushing or doing anything totally unexpected in terms of song choices, what it does do it does with expertise. It knows what it needs to accomplish. There needs to be a sadness for the times with a sweetness for any life had. It needs to be evocative of the past, but not overstaying in such a heavy matter. Despite its rightful chance to pull on the darkness of its history, it keeps the listener at a wise distance. Whether its one of the Americana instrumentals or one of the new songs from artists such as Alicia Keys, John Legend or Gary Clark Jr., the album plays hard, and sings harder – and yet it doesn’t ever overplay its hand in terms of orchestration; effortlessly letting the culture of the music say what it says clearly, plainly, and beautifully.