By Susan Budig
A Prairie Home Companion Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (New Line Records, 2006)
Robert Altman says in the liner notes, “Working with them (The Guy’s All-Star Shoe Band) was one of my keenest pleasures on the picture…” Small wonder, The Shoe Band’s liberal talent splattered throughout the soundtrack of A Prairie Home Companion won’t disappoint. And neither will the offerings of the actors who put forth the effort to maintain APHC’s long-held tradition of exceptional, Americana music.
At the season opener last September 2005, Garrison Keillor, host to public radio show A Prairie Home Companion, performed a song extolling the delight of working with Meryl Streep. His affections weren’t misplaced. Streep’s musical abilities far exceed my expectations.
When Streep and Lily Tomlin, in character as the Johnson Sisters, perform My Minnesota Home, Streep’s delicate soprano voice paired with Tomlin’s contralto makes for an interesting duo. If I were to be listening solely for music acumen, I might be unimpressed, but for overall entertainment, I really like these two vocalists. I hear a chemistry between them that makes me curious to see the movie.
Woody Harrelson and John C. Reilly as cowboy partners, Dusty and Lefty, deliver one of my favorites lines in the whole soundtrack. “We ride in the snow and we ride in the rain, just like Gene Autry, just like John Wayne. They were better cowboys than us and I mean it, but we are still living and that is convenient.” Words on a page can’t compare to the comedic timing that these two pull off.
However, when track #21 plays Bad Jokes I’m not quite so pleased. Most of the laughs are genuine, but several of the gags ought to be retired, having heard them often enough. Further, some of the jokes are off-color such that I can’t bear to have my nine-year-old son hear them.
L.Q. Jones and Lindsay Lohan each sing a song. L.Q. Jones can carry a tune, but he sure can’t impress me with it. He gets points for sincerity, however. Lohan doesn’t disgrace herself with her musical contribution and she does suggest a saucy, entertaining character in the movie, which will be released June 9th.
It’s the Shoe Band and frequent guests of A Prairie Home Companion’s Saturday radio broadcast that make this soundtrack memorable. Baseball fans no doubt wander off into Baseball Dreamland when they hear Take Me Out to the Ballgame. For APHC fans, it’s Tishomingo Blues and that’s the song we hear first on the soundtrack, immediately setting us up for the usual repertoire of skits, funky music, and homespun wit of Garrison Keillor.
Although on the light side of humorous anecdotes from GK, we are treated royally to three of Pat Donohue’s compositions. Mudslide is so fine you’ll want to skip over to Donohue’s website and have a listen to some more of his expert guitar picking. Talking to Pat last year, right after they’d filmed the movie, he’d intimated at how star-struck he felt being on the set with all of those big-name stars, but his work in music puts him right at the head of the list of stars in my book.
Of wholly equal caliber, Andy Stein shows off his fabulous versatility. In person, he’s totally a goofball, but when he plays his music, he’s single-minded and serious. We only hear one composition entirely written by Stein, but I recognize his fiddle playing as it meanders in the background on several numbers.
It’d be nice to see each song broken down with credits in the liner notes. I can guess that it’s Andy Stein on the sax, when we hear Summit Avenue Rag by Rich Dworsky, but it’d be nice to know with certainty. Besides, these musicians deserve every bit of credit that’s their due.
Rich Dworsky, the one-step-ahead-of-GK man, pens at least one-fifth of this 25-track disc. My favorite is Atlanta Twilight. Rich shines in all his glory. This one snugs right up to my senses, calming them, spoon-feeding me warm cocoa. Thanks so much, Mr. Dworsky. This is exactly why I listen to APHC.
In an odd little twist, the disc ends not with the closer, which includes the whole cast, headlined by Jearlyn Steele and every bit as toe-tapping as you might want, but instead, it ends with Guy Noir. The result is intriguing and like eating one potato chip, I’ve gotta sneak another. In this case, it would be another spin of the disc.