Too often, when a soundtrack to a period film or television show tries to introduce listeners to older and often unfamiliar songs, they're presented in a dumbed-down form that doesn’t do justice to the music or capture the imagination of a new audience. Fortunately, the soundtrack to the riveting, meticulously detailed HBO series Boardwalk Empire defies these hefty odds, which are even steeper considering that it features contemporary pop singers trying their vocal cords on ‘20s classics. But instead of trying to modernize the music to fit the vocalists, singers such as Regina Spektor slip seamlessly into songs such as “My Man” like actors given flawlessly reproduced Roaring Twenties costumes. Part of the reason the soundtrack works so well is the involvement of Vince Giordano & the Nighthawks, who are Boardwalk Empire’s “house band” and have been playing vaudeville, jazz, and other styles of the era since the early ‘70s, and faithfully re-create the ricky-ticky rhythms and swooning brass and woodwinds of the era (they get all of the spotlight on the numerous instrumentals, including “Livery Stable Blues” and “Darktown Strutters' Ball”). They provide a flawless backdrop for Loudon Wainwright III on the Irish tune "Carrickfergus" and Martha Wainwright on the knowing ballad “All by Myself.” Leon Redbone and Nellie McKay are two more inspired choices, with Redbone -- who’s always sounded like he transported from the ‘20s via time machine -- giving new life to one of the era’s biggest hits, “Sheik of Araby,” and McKay adding the right amount of smokiness to “Wild Romantic Blues.” Kathy Brier sings several tracks, and while her Betty Boop-like accent borders on theatrical on “Don’t Put a Tax on the Beautiful Girls,” her version of Irving Berlin's “After You Get What You Want (You Don’t Want You Get)” was vivid enough to tease the arrival of Boardwalk’s second season. The soundtrack closes with one of its finest moments, “Life’s a Funny Proposition After All,” which ended the show’s first season on the perfect poignant-yet-witty note. As with everything involved with this show, this set of songs is a great balance of creativity and attention to historical accuracy, and an equally great musical souvenir for fans.
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AllMusic Review by Heather Phares