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The fine soundtrack that accompanied 2000's O Brother, Where Art Thou? earned a Grammy as best album. It's no wonder, then, that the awards-hungry folks at Miramax attempted to repeat the feat with the companion platter to Cold Mountain, even hiring Brother producer T Bone Burnett to man the boards again. But like Inman, Mountain's protagonist, played by Jude Law in the film, the recording demonstrates that if you try to go home again, you just may wind up dead.

Part of the problem this time around relates to the sort of star turns that Brother blessedly lacked. Dominating the spotlight is the White Stripes' Jack White, who has a role in the film as a nomadic musician who becomes Renée Zellweger's main squeeze. Whereas Zellweger gives perhaps her nuttiest performance in Mountain, acting as if she were auditioning for a role in a Reba McEntire sitcom, White comes across as doughy-faced and ineffectual, and this same sense of sluggishness pervades his five songs. A related malady afflicts "The Scarlet Tide," co-written by Burnett and Elvis Costello, and "You Will Be My Ain True Love," a Sting composition that was nominated for an Oscar because -- well, because Sting wrote it, apparently. Without the proper respect, he might get all Tantric on your ass.

The biggest problem, though, is a severe shortage of exuberance. Whereas Burnett's earlier effort burst with energy even during mournful moments, Mountain limps along at a laggard pace as though all involved were fearful that the slightest sign of joy would detract from the seriousness of the enterprise. Musically, Cold Mountain is a rather barren place that never climbs high enough to justify its pretensions. Oh, brother, indeed.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts