Did someone say “all-star cast?” How about this play written by Stephen King with John Mellencamp handling the songwriting and T Bone Burnett as the music director? Add singers that include Americana frontrunners Dave and Phil Alvin, Neko Case, Sheryl Crow, Rosanne Cash, Ryan Bingham, Taj Mahal, Kris Kristofferson, Elvis Costello and others for what should be a can’t-miss ensemble knockout.
Unfortunately this relatively complex story of two feuding brothers and associated sibling ghosts set in a rural Mississippi cabin which was 13 years in the making, doesn’t work nearly as well removed from the striking visuals and acting of the play. On stage, this is a riveting, haunting, wonderfully conceived production where the songs define the characters and move the story forward. Removed from the plot, the edgy swamp/country music score doesn’t connect with the powerful and gripping intensity of the show.
Long time Burnett drummer Jay Bellerose and veteran guitarist Marc Ribot keep the sound sufficiently smoky, spooky and ghostly. Yet when these songs have to stand on their own without the visuals and drama, they don’t consistently resonate. That leaves this high profile release as a better souvenir after seeing the production than a standalone artifact with the listener trying to piece together a concept that resonates far better live.