Mountain Music Comes Together

O Brother, Where Art Thou? producer T Bone Burnett was in Nashville this week working on music for the film version of Cold Mountain, Charles Frazier’s best-selling 1997 novel. Tim O’Brien, who in 1998 issued Songs From the Mountain, a collection of old-time tunes inspired by the novel, was involved in the sessions at Sound Emporium.

“They’re doing what they call ’pre-record’ music,” O’Brien explained. The music will be played during filming, which starts this summer in Romania, where producers have built a small town, farms and a Civil War battlefield faithful to the novel’s setting in Virginia and North Carolina.

Starring Jude Law, Nicole Kidman, Renee Zellweger and Natalie Portman, Cold Mountain is projected for release in December 2003. Burnett’s DMZ/Columbia label will issue the soundtrack.

A few cast members, director Anthony Minghella and producer Albert Berger were in Nashville for this week’s recording sessions. Actor Brendan Gleeson (A.I.: Artificial Intelligence; The Tailor of Panama) will play the part of fiddler Stobrod. An Irishman, Gleeson plays fiddle but won’t be heard playing on screen. Stuart Duncan will supply his fiddle parts and Tim Eriksen of Cordelia’s Dad will sing for him.

“It’s been interesting watching Anthony and Brendan and Tim and Stuart all working together with T Bone Burnett … to find the vibe, become as one,” O’Brien said. “They recorded some of the stuff that Brendan will actually be mimicking on screen, so he’s there learning the parts. He’s got his fiddle out while they’re running the tracks down.”

Jack White, singer and guitarist of rock band the White Stripes, will play the character of Georgia. “He’s singing some stuff,” O’Brien said. “He’s got a nice, raw voice, and they’ve been using his voice on several things.”

Recent Grammy winner Ralph Stanley was in the studio Wednesday (June 19) to lead about 40 singers in a call-and-response, lining out hymn sing, in which Stanley sang a line and the chorus answered with the same line. The music will be part of a church scene.

Traditional music expert John Cohen of the New Lost City Ramblers is a consultant to the project. O’Brien, Dirk Powell, Riley Baugus and Norman Blake also are contributing to the soundtrack. “There’s been a fair amount of fiddle and banjo music,” O’Brien said. “All of this is probably the initial version of what will be redone later on, when they role film, edit and all that kind of stuff.”

Matching music to film requires that musicians consider things beyond the normal values of execution and feel. “There’s a lot of talk about motivation of everybody’s character,” O’Brien said of this week’s work. “It’s not your typical Music Row session.”