Termed a "Southern gothic musical," Ghost Brothers of Darkland County was scripted by novelist Stephen King with the music coming from maverick heartland rocker John Mellencamp, a collaboration a bit left-field for both artists. This set includes Mellencamp's songs interspersed with key dialogue from King's libretto, and while the story might be ...
Termed a "Southern gothic musical," Ghost Brothers of Darkland County was scripted by novelist Stephen King with the music coming from maverick heartland rocker John Mellencamp, a collaboration a bit left-field for both artists. This set includes Mellencamp's songs interspersed with key dialogue from King's libretto, and while the story might be too complex -- essentially, it's the tale of two brothers involved in a murder/suicide whose ghosts haunt an isolated cabin and whose tragic deeds and consequent fate seems about to be repeated by their living nephews -- to be truly appreciated in single-disc form like this, so it's Mellencamp's songs, sung by the likes of Elvis Costello, Neko Case, Sheryl Crow, Dave and Phil Alvin (real-life brothers whose estrangement with each other ended while working on this project), Taj Mahal, Ryan Bingham, Clyde Mulroney, Rosanne Cash, and Kris Kristofferson (Mellencamp only sings on one song here, the summing-it-up last track "Truth") that are really left to carry things. They certainly work as songs, and may well be among the best Mellencamp has ever written, while the overall sound of the whole musical suite, crafted by T-Bone Burnett, is kind of like a sparse and shined-up version of a late-period Tom Waits album, due in part to the presence of multi-instrumentalist Marc Ribot on most of the tracks, and the tight, spare rhythm section of Jay Bellerose on drums and David Piltch on bass. The performances? Elvis Costello sounds gleeful and sinful on "That's Me" (identity and fulfillment are key themes of Ghost Brothers of Darkland Country, that and history's tendency to repeat itself), Neko Case is sassy and sure on "That's Who I Am," Kris Kristofferson sounds old, wise, and weary on "How Many Days," Taj Mahal rages through "Tear This Cabin Down," and Sheryl Crow is confident and cocky on "Jukin'," while Rosanne Cash turns in a delicately worn and wise reading of "You Don't Know Me," and for a story that spans decades and generations, it's obvious that everyone is singing about who they are, who they ought to be, and who they ended up becoming. It's difficult to say how good this musical is just from the songs and pieces of dialogue presented here, but the songs have a weary, inevitable flow to them, as if fate forced them into a dark room with little light or air or chance of redemption. Redemption comes with acceptance of who one is, the songs and story here seem to say, and only then can the real truth about what has happened to anyone really be revealed. It's a ghost story, after all. [A Deluxe CD/DVD version was also released.] ~ Steve Leggett, Rovi