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Though “The Hunger Games” takes place in the future, the movie’s soundtrack, out today, takes a decided look back.
Many, though not all, of the songs sound as if they could have come from Appalachia in the ‘20s, ‘30s and ‘40s, with their reliance on acoustic instrumentation and slight celtic influence, none more so than the banjo/mandolin filled “Run Daddy Run” by Miranda Lambert featuring Pistol Annies (since she is a member of the Pistol Annies, we’re not quite sure how they got pegged as a featured artist here) and Civil Wars’ tender, tremulous “Kingdom Come.”
Under the guidance of Grammy/Oscar-winning producer T Bone Burnett, the 16-track set is a stellar musical journey that stands firmly on its own as a musical delight even if you can’t tell your Katniss from your Cato from your Cinna.
There’s menace at every turn on the songs on “The Hunger Games” soundtrack, as it should be given the characters are literally fighting for their lives. Most songs don’t directly reference the series, except for The Carolina Chocolate Drops’ stirring “Daughter’s Lament,” which refers to the Mockingjay, the bird that is featured in the novels and is the title of the third book.The Drops’ Rihanna Giddons sings the song a capella (though there is the slight hint of strings and drums in the background).
As Taylor Swift’s vulnerable “Safe & Sound” featuring The Civil Wars shows off a beautiful facet of her that we haven’t seen before, the same is true of Maroon 5 on “Come Away To The Water” featuring Rozzi Cane, who are virtually unrecognizable here. Their mid-tempo ballad is full of haunting, muted drums that add a sense of jeopardy even if the much repeated “we are coming for you” refrain didn’t reinforce the sense of danger. (Swift’s second contribution, “Eyes Open” is fine, but not the revelation that “Safe & Sound" is).
As mentioned, some songs sound much more contemporary. That Swell Season/'“Once’s” Glen Hansard takes a decidedly raw left turn on the driving, unhinged “Take The Heartland,” which sounds more like Jack White than the relatively tame, melodies we’ve come to expect from him. Kid Cudi’s rhythmic, spare, sinister “The Ruler and the Killer” is all snarl and is one of the set’s highlights. Arcade Fire’s futuristic “Abraham’s Daughter,” which serves as the end title track, is driven by an insistent militant beat.
As diverse as the artists and material is, there’s a shared sensibility here, as if each act tried to get the characters into their own heads and took the mission very seriously. As if their lives depended on it.
Follow Melinda Newman at Twitter @HitfixMelinda