Various Artists

True Blood [Music from the HBO Original Series]

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True Blood's sexy, swampy, and sometimes campy Louisiana atmosphere plays nearly as big a part in the show as Sookie Stackhouse and her vampire lover, Bill Compton. Fans of the HBO TV series know that music played a huge part in creating that atmosphere -- so much so that all of the episodes of its first season were named after songs that appeared in them. And while director/producer Alan Ball's previous HBO series, Six Feet Under, also had an expertly crafted soundtrack that often blended indie and alternative rock with classic vocal pop, True Blood's music runs deeper and wider, often spanning artists like Japanther and the Cowboy Junkies in a single episode and still sounding cohesive. And though the show is steeped in vampire and other kinds of supernatural lore, this collection of songs couldn't be further from stereotypically dark, gothy music: the closest it comes (and it's a stretch) is either the Watson Twins' Mazzy Star-like cover of the Cure's "Just Like Heaven" or the Southern Gothic of Little Big Town's "Bones," which, with its backwoods menace and beautiful harmonies, is a kissin' cousin of Fleetwood Mac's "The Chain." True Blood moves seamlessly from classic swamp blues and soul to contemporary country to alt-country and rock, and though decades separate some of these songs, common threads run through them. There's a real twang to most of these tracks, most brashly on Jace Everett's "Bad Things," which wraps temptation and longing in roadhouse swagger that makes it one of the most memorable TV theme songs of the late 2000s, especially paired with the show's vividly gritty title sequence. It's also no surprise that many tracks are about Louisiana or by artists from there, including Lucinda Williams' softly Cajun-tinged "Lake Charles," Allen Toussaint's "From a Whisper to a Scream," and Dr. John's brooding "I Don't Wanna Know." True Blood mixes moods as easily as it does musical styles: C.C. Adcock's "Bleed 2 Feed" and Th' Legendary Shack Shakers' "Swampblood" embody late-night hedonism with snaky blues-rock and wild-eyed psychobilly; the Flying Burrito Brothers' "Christine's Tune" nods to the magical reality lurking around the show's edges with cosmic country-rock; and Lee Dorsey's "Give It Up" is just plain funky and sexy. True Blood's songs capture the feel of the show rather than focusing just on tracks that scored the series' key moments, and this approach feels more cohesive and listenable (although it has to be said that Slim Harpo's "Strange Love," which soundtracks the first conversation Bill and Sookie have, is a standout). True Blood geeks will nitpick about some omissions, like Lynyrd Skynyrd's "That Smell" or Joan Baez's "Plaisir d'Amour," but the soundtrack is so of the show and so enjoyable that it feels like spending some quality time with the jukebox at Merlotte's Bar and Grill.

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