Miramax hops on the old-timey bandwagon with the release of the soundtrack for Anthony Minghella's Civil War epic Cold Mountain. Like O Brother, Where Art Thou?'s dark, older sibling, the latest collection of blues, ballads, and laments from producer T-Bone Burnett is a veritable dictionary of traditional country and Americana, but with a weightier muse. Jack White opens the record with a stark rendition of "Wayfaring Stranger" featuring Nashville heavyweights Stuart Duncan, Norman Blake, and Dirk Powell. For the most part, the White Stripes frontman successfully transplants himself into the genre, utilizing his throaty warble on Howlin' Wolf's "Sittin' on Top of the World" like a dust-bowl carny, and channeling fellow tenor Ralph Stanley on "Great High Mountain." However, it's the self-penned "Never Far Away" that elevates White above his garage rock trappings. With its delicate front-porch picking and wistful lyrics, it manages to walk the line between heartache and puppy love with a sweetness that's genuinely moving. That same bleeding heart pumps through Alison Krauss' delivery of Elvis Costello's powerful "Scarlet Tide," a ballad of devastating beauty that works almost like a spiritual. Recovering songwriter Sting contributes the record's only bad apple, the bland "You Will Be My Ain True Love." Krauss does her best to paint the tune in period colors, but Sting -- who insists on singing harmony -- keeps the piece firmly entrenched in the very nonsepia-toned world of adult-contemporary pop. Unfortunately, the orchestral work for the film is hastily assembled as if it were an afterthought. While it may lack the initial punch of Tim Eriksen's "I Wish My Baby Was Born" or either of the shape-note tunes provided by the Sacred Harp Singers at Liberty Church, Burnett clusters composer Gabriel Yared's understated score at the end of the record, delegating it as filler, which is unfair, as its quiet power mirrors the songs as well as the characters.
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AllMusic Review by James Christopher Monger