Star-Bulletin Features

Friday, January 25, 2002

All you need are Beatles
songs to sell a soundtrack

"I Am Sam: Music From and Inspired by the Motion Picture"
Various artists (V2)

Review by Gary C.W. Chun

God, how we love the Beatles.

The overall top-selling album last year was the Fab Four's compilation of No. 1 charting singles. And now this new collection of covers has been doing well, even though it was out before the Sean Penn-Michelle Pfeiffer movie was in wide release and in spite of the critical bashing of the film (see review in today's Weekend section).

The Beatle songs are threaded throughout the movie because Penn's mentally challenged character is obsessed with their music, so much so that his 7-year-old girl in the movie is named after "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds."

The original tunes could not be used because of a group mandate against using their performances in films, so, V2 label president Andy Gershon had only three weeks to find artists to participate in the soundtrack.

Most of the newer versions also had to be in sync with the original versions. He told Ice magazine that "the songs that are in the movie, they actually had to be cut to the same tempo as the originals.

"I think this is where the artists really shine (in their) ability to keep the integrity and beauty of the original and at the same time be able to make it their own," he said.

So it's no surprise that while not all of the covers are slavish copies, they are in the spirit and overall sound of the originals.

The album works in total not only because of these great songs, but because of the caliber of artists involved. Rufus Wainwright puts his heart into "Across the Universe," his version slowly unfolding like a lotus blossom. "I'm Looking Through You" moves along at a nice clip thanks to the Wallflowers, complete with Jakob Dylan's dusky voice and Jackson Browne's harmonies.

Ben Folds does a fine turn on "Golden Slumbers," and the now-on-hiatus Black Crowes add a bit of Southern funk to their take on "Lucy."

Major artists like these and Sarah McLachlan, Eddie Vedder, Ben Harper and Sheryl Crow are part of the movie soundtrack, numbering about half of the CD's songs.

I suspect those covers with a more idiosyncratic edge (and tempo) -- an arrangement by Marc Anthony Thompson (a k a Chocolate Genius) of "Julia," a more intimate and textured "Help!" from 20-year-old Howie Day and Grandaddy's casual, offhand take on "Revolution" -- were done to help fill out the album. But they're welcome nevertheless.

Two of the more affecting performances are from Paul Westerberg and Nick Cave. Westerberg's late-night, weathered-sounding solo on "Nowhere Man" is poignant, and he makes the song his own. And who would've thought that Mr. Doom-and-Gloom Nick Cave could pull off such a quiet and warm "Let It Be"?

So let us celebrate the music of the lads from Liverpool one more time!

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