Various Artists

Ghost World (Shanachie)

Several years back -- around the time of John Hughes and Flashdance -- soundtrack albums lost their link to the movies they accompanied, becoming simple marketing tools for major labels with one-hit wonders to slog. Contemporary soundtracks are now so devoid of genuine character or individuality that idiosyncratic offerings like the recent Ghost World album are an unparalleled joy.

With Ghost World, director Terry Zwigoff was so intent on gaining input into the musical direction of the film that he asked cartoonist/screenwriter Daniel Clowes to give one of the minor characters from his comic book universe a greatly expanded role. Speaking through Seymour (a crusty old fart who turns the movie's misanthropic heroines on to the joys of old-time 78s), Zwigoff could trumpet his love for antique jazz and blues tunes, and turn us on as well.

As on the soundtracks for his previous films Crumb and Louie Bluie, Zwigoff's song selection for Ghost World is first rate, split between archival material and newer recordings with an authentic roots feel. The album opens with Mohammed Rafi, one of the legends of Indian filmi music, and his irresistible Asian go-go tune "Jaan Pehechaan Ho," which ought to get you dancing around your pad like the movie's Enid Coleslaw. Next up is the hip hop parody "Graduation Rap" (written by Clowes), which works mostly because of its over-the-top perkiness and its mercifully short length. The next song, "Devil Got My Woman," is a typically sparse and haunting blues tune by Skip James that plants us solidly on Zwigoff's home turf. Generously opening up his collection of rare 78s to the hoi polloi, the director includes enchanting Latin-tinged calypsos by Lionel Belasco, raw, politically incorrect blues tunes like the McGee Brothers' "C-h-i-c-k-e-n Spells Chicken," and rough-edged gems such as Pink Anderson & Simmie Dooley's "C.C. & O. Blues." Zwigoff also matches the delicate, archaic feel of the songs from the '20s and '30s with a number of modern tracks by Vince Giordano, a New York jazz band leader with a jovial tone reminiscent of Leon Redbone's.

Proud to be out of touch with modern pop, Zwigoff invites us back to the era where modern pop began, suggesting -- perhaps a bit self-servingly -- that asocial collector nerds like Seymour may hold the key to our cultural redemption. And even if they don't, Ghost World shows that there are few things so satisfying as the sound of the deep, scratchy grooves on an old 78, grinding your needle down and bringing the ghosts of the past to life.

 
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