The third track from the Ghost Brothers of Darkland County soundtrack has just been put up over at Entertainment Weekly. This is a long gestating project that’s finally being released on June 4, and based on the three songs released so far, I’m very excited to pick it up.
Back in 2000 there was a lot of chatter that Stephen King was collaborating with John Mellencamp on a musical, and I remember the idea drawing a lot of mocking comments. King was in a relatively bloated phase in his writing, putting up as many misses as hits. And Mellencamp was a fair ways from the regular radio play he enjoyed in the eighties and early nineties. It seemed like a strange desperation play from two past-their-prime artists, particularly because the idea of a musical evoked Andrew Lloyd-Webber levels of bombast. It conjured images of over-dressed, revolving stage sets and over-emoting singers, building to the showstopping number “HEEERE’S JOHNNY!” What I didn’t understand then was how impressive a late career resurgence can be. This was way before King was writing books like Cell, Under the Dome, and Full Dark, No Stars, and reminding us how atmospheric and masterful his writing is.
The musical King and Mellencamp have crafted deals with haunted pasts and regret. These are subjects both artists have put in the years learning from painful experience. They’ve both fallen far down the ladders of excess, and they’ve both hauled themselves back up. King wrote the book for Ghost Brothers, and the storyline follows a man haunted by a terrible crime, and how that terrible act threatens his own boys. Mellecamp has an encyclopedic familiarity with roots music, and the early tracks released show him drawing from those deep wells. The show has been staged for a couple of limited performances, but it’s debut to a larger audience will be through this soundtrack, which collects a number of distinctive singers. Produced by T Bone Burnett, the soundtrack allows for a greater intimacy than a live performance would, making the songs sound more organic and haunting.
The first track they released has Neko Case channeling Patsy Cline.
The second, featuring Roseanne Cash, brings in more folk elements.
The most recent, featuring Kris Kirstofferson, is a slow burning shuffle, and reminds me of the Alejandro Escovedo songs I like to drive to late at night.
Finally, here’s a creepy song performed by Elvis Costello.
This is only a sampling, the full album also includes Ryan Bingham and Will Dailey, among others. Folk and Americana may not fill Broadway theaters, but the quiet beauty of these songs point to the kind of story that you want to ruminate over, perhaps on a porch after dusk this summer.