The soundtrack for Sean Penn's 2002 film I Am Sam was not compiled without difficulties, but the finished product ended up being very enjoyable. The filmmaker's' original plan was to use the Beatles' original versions of songs in the film, but it was stonewalled by the band's strict self-imposed policy of not licensing their music for films. Instead, the producers decided to use new recordings of the songs by contemporary artists. Further complicating the issue, the film had originally been sequenced to match the pacing of the original songs, so many of the new versions needed to match the exact tempo and length of the classic versions. Luckily, the artists involved jumped at the chance and came up with some really engaging interpretations. Aimee Mann and Michael Penn's sweet duet "Two of Us" sticks faithfully to the original, as does Sarah McLachlan's solo acoustic "Blackbird," while Ben Harper takes some psychedelic guitar liberties on his fantastic version of "Strawberry Fields Forever." Ben Folds' perfect "Golden Slumbers" becomes anthemic in its choruses (even if it is a little too short), while an intimate (if marble-mouthed) Eddie Vedder turns in a campfire rendition of "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away." A handful of the songs are less successful, like the Black Crowes' dull "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" and Heather Nova's "We Can Work It Out," which almost sounds like she'd never heard the song before recording it. These are outshined by gems like Stereophonics' laddish "Don't Let Me Down" (which ends up sounding more like a Faces cover) and Rufus Wainwright's soaring "Across the Universe." While cynical listeners may protest the preponderance of up-and-coming V2 (Richard Branson's record label) artists, there are far more winners than losers on this collection.
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AllMusic Review by Zac Johnson