Soundtracks are usually little more than product packaging for the studio or the label, an effort to attach extra marketing to what might otherwise only be a successful motion picture. This one's different. As a movie, The Slaughter Rule made a name for itself in 2002 at festivals aired last month on the Sundance Channel. It's a coming-of-age picture about a teenage football player in icy Frozen Butt, Montana, and his relationship with a borderline case of a coach. Hence this desolate soundtrack of roots rock works as the perfect symbiotic score, a marriage of movie and music that pulls country away from its usual trappings and places it back where it belongs, in the spinal fluid of the American nightmare.
Like most of the stuff on Bloodshot Records, the soundtrack features a variety of alt-cutting-edge-countrified-Americannibalized music, an amalgam of cast-iron country and wide-open, gothic, aggressive, soulful, strange, beautiful, funky and fanciful influences. Bloodshot artists such as Neko Case and the Blood Oranges appear, as do pop geniuses the Pernice Brothers; Jimmie Dale Gilmore and his Texas buddies Joe Ely and Butch Hancock (a.k.a. the Flatlanders); and Vic Chesnutt. Among other highlights, Ryan Adams hitchhikes down Dylan's Highway 61 on 2000's "To Be Young (Is to Be Sad, Is to Be High)," Freakwater wades waist-deep in the Louvin Brothers' oft-covered classic "When I Stop Dreaming," and the filmmakers even add a goofy South Seas-ish instrumental called "West of Samoa" by brilliant '50s duo Speedy West and Jimmy Bryant.
But it's Jay Farrar, formerly of Uncle Tupelo and Son Volt, who's really the cake beneath the icing on this collection. In addition to a previously unreleased song with vocals, he composed a series of instrumentals for the film, which appear here between the other songs.