The bluegrass world always gets a bit of a thrill anytime there’s talk of finding our music in a major motion picture. Those of us with long memories recall three separate occasions when a movie soundtrack led a massive surge of interest in bluegrass, and folks in the business are always hoping to ride that next wave.
Will it come with this weekend’s release of The Song, a Samuel Goldwyn Films project which incorporates a Ricky Skaggs number in its soundtrack? Director Richard Ramsey is making his feature film debut in this exposition of the Song of Songs, which hopes to use its music-heavy background and the ancient story of love and betrayal to lure young people into the theaters.
Music Director Vince Emmett, who produced the soundtrack CD, supervised the songwriters for the film, and even co-wrote some songs with the director, told us that his goal was to create real music with real people, avoiding the overproduction that is too often the norm for movie scores.
The actors, who portray singers and songwriters on screen, do their own vocals and were recorded as live as possible in the studio. Emmett even used an old MCI analog tape recorder to cut the soundtrack.
The songs fall into the wide Americana genre, with one plainly bluegrass number and a few that might be welcome in the contemporary Christian realm. A number of familiar names participated in the recording sessions, with Andy Leftwich on fiddle, Byron House on bass, and Jerry Douglas on dobro showing up in the credits.
Kentucky Voice is Skaggs’ contribution, a semi-biographical song that tells of being raised in the bluegrass state, and being taught the right way to live – and sing.
It was during the production of this track that what Emmett sees as the film’s musical highlight was conceived. And it was Ricky Skaggs who suggested it.
After watching the film, and getting the Americana music vibe, he said “why don’t we get Roger McGuinn to recut Turn, Turn, Turn,” and have Emmylou Harris sing with him. The song, written by Pete Seeger, had been a major hit for The Byrds in 1965 as the folk/rock scene was beginning to take hold. McGuinn had never before been involved in any remake of the song, which was a coming-of-age anthem for a great many people in its day.
The producers decided, “why not?” and reached out to McGuinn, who agreed to do it. Emmett says that Roger gave his blessing, sang the song, and even played his iconic twelve-string guitar introduction that will be immediately recognizable to anyone who followed pop music in the ’60s.
Like the theme of the movie, Turn, Turn, Turn, was also based on Scripture. In fact Seeger had said that he took the lyrics directly from Ecclesiastes. Ricky and Emmylou take turns singing lines of harmony in this arrangement which largely follows The Byrds’, but with fiddle and mandolin in the mix.
Vince Emmett said that he saw it as a collaboration of superstars, and was delighted to have been involved.
“The gift of having Roger McGuinn in the film was more than we could have hoped for. People get married and buried with this tune, and we have three iconic artists bring a different angle to the song… it’s a true vocal event. And what a wonderful time to celebrate them all in their careers!”
The soundtrack CD is set to release September 30, and the producers are hoping that interest in the music will drive curious moviegoers into the cineplex. It’s not a completely novel idea, as this is exactly the marketing scheme used for the 2000 film, O Brother, Where Art Thou. That film, and soundtrack, were critical and financial successes though they depended more on established artists and traditional Appalachian film music to set the tone.
Kentucky Voice will be heard during the film proper, while Turn, Turn, Turn will play under the end credits.
You can check The Song’s web site for more information on theaters where it will be playing this weekend.