Review: The Hunger Games: Songs from District 12 and Beyond

Listen to The Hunger Games: Songs from District 12 and Beyond on Spotify.

Yes, The Hunger Games is the latest teen-geared film franchise. But the companion album — we aren’t sure how many of these songs will be heard in the movie — is something all ages can enjoy.

The glue of the project is producer T Bone Burnett whose credits include the Robert Plant-Alison Krauss collaboration Raising Sand, music for the Jeff Bridges-as-country-singer drama Crazy Heart and the soundtrack to the Coen brothers’ comedy O Brother, Where Art Thou. The man has a feel for things Southern and Appalachian, which is precisely what we have in The Hunger Games: a very dark future where children from what is now Appalachia and other parts of North America are forced to participate in a fight to the death for the enjoyment of TV viewers.

Burnett’s 16-song album takes artists as disparate as Taylor Swift, the Carolina Chocolate Drops and Kid Cudi and makes them sound as if they are working under a unified vision. Even Maroon 5 has checked its Jagger swagger for the mournful and reverberating Come Away to the Water, which features Rozzi Crane. That is the tone of most of the album: mournful and echoing across mountains of our minds.

It opens with the martial drumbeat and chant of Arcade Fire’s Abraham’s Daughter and even makes Swift sound dour, but convincingly so, on Safe and Sound, a lullaby in which she creates a beautiful vocal blend with The Civil Wars’ Joy Williams. Swift gets a rousing anthem in Eyes Open, a song encouraging the story’s heroine, Katniss (played by Louisville’s Jennifer Lawrence), to sleep with her eyes open. Other highlights include Neko Case’s Nothing to Remember, the savvy pick of Once Irishman Glen Hansard’s wailing Take the Heartland, Miranda Lambert and the Pistol Annies’ Run Daddy Run and The Low Anthem’s Lover Is Childlike. And make sure to listen to the end for 15-year-old Birdy’s gorgeous Just a Game, a heartbreaker in the context of The Hunger Games’ story.

Just looking at the track listing made me cheer knowing great acts like The Civil Wars and Carolina Chocolate Drops are going to get exposed to a wider audience. But probably everyone who listens will find artists they know and artists they want to know more about in one of the most cohesive film companion albums in a while.

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