In the liner notes to the Hottest State soundtrack, director Ethan Hawke relates a moment in the studio with Norah Jones and Jesse Harris, the latter of whom wrote each of the 18 songs on the album: most artists, Jones told Harris, need to be dead to have so many covers of their songs on one album. It's so true. The story of how co-executive producers Hawke and Harris managed to wrangle commitments out of Jones, Bright Eyes, Feist, Cat Power, Willie Nelson, M. Ward, and Emmylou Harris for this record is probably an interesting one, but the question of why they signed on is no mystery at all. As a songwriter, the Grammy-winning Harris is magnificently human. From Cat Power's gently broken-down "It's Alright to Fail" to Rocha's brave, fully felt "Never See You," these are songs to check the fullness of your heart by. That's not to say every song on The Hottest State aims a dart through the soul -- the Black Keys' "If You Ever Slip" rocks and rolls enough to get your mind off your melancholy, and Bright Eyes' "Big Old House" doesn't sink much beneath the skin despite being a great track. Mostly, though, it takes a while to recover from the sting of these songs. Willie Nelson devastates -- it's his specialty -- and so does Harris himself, on "One Day the Dam Will Break"; the rest do their duty, which seems to be to move listeners monumentally, nearly as well. Brace yourself, Ethan Hawke: the movie that accompanies this music has a lot to live up to.
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AllMusic Review by Tammy La Gorce