I haven’t seen Ghost Brothers of Darkland County, the new musical from the combined efforts of Stephen King and John Mellencamp. But I have heard the folk and country that build up its soundtrack. An all-star cast – including Matthew McConaughey, Meg Ryan, Neko Case, and Roseanne Cash – performs the new piece. Kris Kristofferson and Elvis Costello even pull double-duty; the former tells the tale while the latter plays “The Shape”, aka the devil himself.
King’s original story takes place in the South of both past and present, where a feuding pair of brothers today remind their father of his own warring siblings from years long gone. It’s difficult to pass much judgment on the play as a whole, as whether or not the story is a total success can’t be determined sans visuals. Fortunately, the music is all there for the taking, and for the most part succeeds.
Produced by the legendary T. Bone Burnett, the sound is much more Crazy Heart than “Freebird”. Mellencamp’s choruses occasionally fall victim to lazy songwriting (“Home, home, home again/ Aren’t you glad to be home again,” “So goddamn smart/ So goddamn smart,” ad nauseam), but if you’re a fan of the aforementioned “alt-country”, then there’s much to be appreciated. Case’s vocals emulate the tough character she’s representing on “That’s Who I Am”, while Bingham’s smoky vocals lead the waltzing “You Are Blind”. The musical highlight is Costello, who disappears into his antagonistic role with sadistic glee.
Ghost Brothers of Darkland County is chockfull of slow-to-mid tempo tracks that prevent it from truly soaring, musically. Without repeated listens, it’s difficult to follow, but this release should be treated as a teaser. If you like the music, you’re likely to give the stage performance a shot. As for me, I’m looking forward to any future King/Mellencamp collaborations. May I suggest T.O.M.M.Y.K.N.O.C.K.E.R.S. IN THE U.S.A.?
Essential Tracks: “That’s Me”, “That’s Who I Am”, and “You Are Blind”