Carolyn Mark and Her Room-Mates

A Tribute To the Soundtrack of Robert Altman's Nashville (Mint)

Carolyn Mark is one of those troubling examples of altcountry singers who seem completely devoted to the music, but only in an exaggerated, stereotype-laden fashion that undercuts the style's real charm. It's not at all surprising to find out that she is a big fan of the movie Nashville, or that she could rope Neko Case and other pals into doing a twangcore tribute to the Robert Altman flick. But for all the insidery rib-nudging, this disc merely shows off the shortcomings of the urban hick approach.

Altman's 1975 masterpiece was notable both as a breakaway art film and as a well-timed jab at the pretensions of Music City. The movie was a nasty bit of satire, coldly condescending yet dead-on in the details, the most remarkable of which was the music itself. Altman asked several of his stars to write their own material, basing their tunes on the formulaic, artsy overreaching of the current "countrypolitan" style of songsmithing. Keith Carradine even got the last laugh when his sleazy soft-pop ballad, "I'm Easy," became a real-life Top 10 hit.

Unfortunately, what subtlety there was in Altman's artistic high-wire act seems to have been lost on Mark and her pals, who treat the film as a y'allternative Rocky Horror Picture Show, slavishly recreating its songs so they can hoot and holler at the genre they profess to love. The movie's heartless lampooning of Hank Snow (a real-life Grand Ole Opry star who was a country relic by the time the film was made) remains untouched in Dave Lang's ragged versions. Likewise, Dallas Good (of the Toronto band the Sadies) loses a golden opportunity to inject something original into his version of the Olivia Newton-John parody "Bluebird," which would have been twice as funny with its rough edges smoothed out and the preposterous lyrics played to the hilt.

A vexing exception is Tolan McNeil's version of "I'm Easy," in which he apes Keith Carradine's vocal tone, but warps the phrasing to make the character sound like a drawling hick. This bastardization is particularly ironic since Carradine's folk-rocker swinger was the most talented and least affected of the film's musicians, while also the poorest excuse for a human being. By turning the song into just another cornball nugget, Mark's crew shows how misplaced their sense of irony is, believing that if anything deserves to be made fun of, it's that song! Thus, the musicians are undone by their own push towards irreverence: When it comes to Altman's sneering send-up of country music, these modern-day twangsters are all giggles and snorts, yet sadly, the same is true of their take on the director's insights into humanity. As it is, this musical homage plays it so close to the vest that you might as well just buy the original soundtrack, or better yet, rent the film to see what all the fuss is about.

 
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