Horror publisher weighs in on A-lister joint project
Music Review by D. L. Russell
Quite often, when a creative project is put together with too many alpha-type-all-stars, the effort can get bogged down by egos and strong wills. But with the CD + DVD Deluxe Edition set inspired by the stage play, Ghost Brothers of Darkland County, horror author Stephen King, rock and roll icon John Mellencamp, and famed music rroducer T. Bone Burnett all seem to have checked their egos at the door. The end result is a 17-musical track CD, intermingled with snippets of dialog from the play, and as a whole, this project booms!
According to the liner notes and DVD interviews, the inspiration for Ghost Brothers of Darkland County was born out of true events. Sometime during the 1990s, Mellencamp called King and pitched the idea for a play based on a murder/accident that ended in the deaths of two brothers and the women whose love they were fighting for.
The real murder actually took place at a cabin on Mellencamp’s Indiana property, some decades earlier and King loved the idea of the story being centered on a haunted dwelling.
Over the next 13 years King and Mellencamp developed the cabin incident into a full-length musical taking place in Darkland County, Miss., and described as “a haunting tale of fraternal love, lust, jealousy and revenge.”
The CD for Ghost Brothers of Darkland County is 35 tracks of Mellencamp written music and King created dialog from the play, but it’s through the direction of famed music producer T Bone Burnett (Raising Sand, O Brother Where Art Thou?) that it all comes together as a masterwork. The tracks are all heavy, acoustical pieces with an almost hip hop-like thump to them.
The CD begins with an almost comically delivered news report of the three deaths, from The Zydeco Cowboy and the first musical track, “That’s Me,” performed by Elvis Costello. The song sets the tone for what is to follow and is down-right creepy; Costello doesn’t hold anything back in his portrayal of “Puck,” the Devil.
From there on, the music only gets better, with standout performances from Neko Case on “That’s Who I Am,” where she brags her way through the catchy lyrics with a voice that’s rich and powerful. Other up-tempo tracks like Dave Alvin, Phil Alvin and Sheryl Crow’s “So Goddam Smart,” Costello’s “Wrong, Wrong, Wrong About Me,” Ryan Bingham and Will Dailey’s “Brotherly Love,” Taj Mahal’s “Tear This Cabin Down,” and Crow’s “Jukin” all thump with the hard and heavy beats ranging from folksy, to bluesy, to juke-joint rock and roll that are synonymous with past works recorded with T. Bone Burnett’s production leadership.
As for ballads and mid-tempo tracks, “Truth,” performed by Mellencamp with Lily and Madeleine Jurkiewicz, is one of the best. Rosanne Cash’s “You Don’t Know Me,” and Crow’s “Away From This World,” are two more, but it’s Kris Kristofferson’s “How Many Days,” and the slow rocking “What Kind of Man Am I,” by Kristofferson, the Alvins, Crow and Mahal that kick ass!
Even though it’s the music that makes the CD thump, the King created dialog snippets are not overshadowed by the music, but instead help to add to and reinforce the storyline of the play. King has never been given enough credit for great character creation, throughout his career, but with help from a cast of A-List performers like Costello, Kristofferson, Meg Ryan, Samantha Mathis, Harry Lennix, Hamish Linklater, Kelli Garner, Patch Darragh, W. Earl Brown, Max Burkholder and Matthew McConaughey, the dialog comes across as genuine and powerful.
The companion DVD for Ghost Brothers of Darkland County contains a short, behind the scenes conversation with King, Mellencamp and Burnett. If you’re the kind of person that enjoys knowing the why and how of a project’s creation, I must say it will leave you someone disappointed. The project took more than 13 years from conception to completion and I’m sure there are more tidbits of interesting information that could have been given.
The DVD does contain a great video performance of Mellencamp, and the Jurkiewicz’ recording of “Truth,” and a pdf copy of King’s Libretto that I did find really interesting.
Overall, the Ghost Brothers of Darkland County CD + DVD Deluxe Edition is perfect for a ride along your favorite highway. Imagine your favorite audio book along with enough great music to get you through to where you’re heading. The music and storyline are both heavy and creepy and will leave you hoping King, Mellencamp and Burnett someday work together again.
Acclaimed horror and fantasy writer D.L. Russell is publisher and CEO of Strange Weird and Wonderful Publishing. In addition to publishing a number of anthologies by up and coming horror and fantasy masters across the country as well as novels and collections by select writers, Russell’s own collection of short stories, “Hell Is An Awfully Big City: Spin-Tingling Tales of Horror and Suspense,” has garnered rave reviews from readers and critics alike.
This article originally appeared in the July 31 print edition.