Petra Goes To The Movies

21:22, Jan 30 2013

I've been listening to Petra Haden's new album, Petra Goes To The Movies, a lot this week. It has me newly enthused about certain soundtracks and key movie songs. Though it's fair to say I'm a fan of soundtrack music - both the composed-score and compilation-of source-music varieties.

Petra Goes To The Movies (and you can click that link to hear the whole album) has reminded me of a few great movie soundtracks I own but haven't visited for a while (The Social Network) and some that I've never heard outside and away from the film (Cool Hand Luke). It also reminded me of the power of a great piece of film music (Cinema Paradiso).

A couple of years ago I told you all about my rule: The Solaris Rule - well it was an exception in fact: the Solaris soundtrack by Cliff Martinez was, at that point in time, the only film soundtrack I had ever heard without checking out the movie. I've no real interest in seeing the Soderbergh remake - I haven't. And I won't.

And if I had to name one single film soundtrack that has had the most impact on me as a listener it is definitely Solaris (though, when I was young Prince's Batman and Purple Rain would have easily been first equal).

Since writing that post about Solaris I've become hooked on finding interesting soundtracks to films I don't know.

It's a new release - so maybe I will see it - but currently I'm just happy listening to Jonny Greenwood's score for The Master. I doubt I'll see the film. But perhaps I'm saying this as a parent - now realistic about just how much of an effort a trip to the cinema can be.


I've also been revisiting soundtracks to films I haven't thought about in a while, but really love - the music and the picture - such as David Lynch's Straight Story score by Angelo Badalamenti.

Angelo Badalamenti can be heard discussing the writing of the Twin Peaks theme at the start of the Nicolas Jaar Essential Mix - a two-hour mixtape that is also a favourite among recent listening materials. Click that link to check it out, free download.

Badalamenti and Danny Elfman and Cliff Martinez and Clint Mansell are some of my favourite film composers. I believe them. I know they believe in what they're doing - they disappear into the world of the film in their quest to create music that helps us do exactly that, in whatever way, when watching the movie.

And Petra Haden does that with her trip to the movies - not as a composer but almost as a re-composer; as a committed, passionate performer dedicated to seeing the art within and around the lines to learn.

Have you heard Petra Haden's album? It's fascinating and strange and beautiful and clever; it's dark and bold, striking and charming - it bursts with energy and contains so many amazing moments.

There is a sincere reading of It Might Be You (sung by Stephen Bishop for the film Tootsie). For this track Haden is backed by Bill Frisell, they've worked together before; he's also a good buddy of Petra's father.

You see, and it's worth mentioning here for anyone who doesn't know about the Haden family, Petra is a triplet. Her sisters are musicians too; they've performed together as The Haden Sisters. And two of them (Petra and Rachel) were members of That Dog. Their other sister (Tanya) is married to Jack Black. The girls have a brother, Josh Haden. He sings and plays bass in the band Spain - last year's The Soul of Spain was one of my favourite albums - as I said here.

And Josh and Rachel and Tanya and Petra's father is Charlie Haden - jazz legend. A bass player who has worked with everyone (or close enough to it).

Charlie joins Frisell to back Petra on a great rendition of This Is Not America.

But most of the extra colour on Petra Goes To The Movies is provided by Petra Haden herself, or her selves - as she becomes a multivoiced/multitracked choir and orchestra. On many of the songs - as with her 2005 track-by-track rebuild of The Who Sell Out - she is the drum-kit, she is the guitar, the bass-line comes from her...

It's masterful. But don't be scared off by what you think might be a gimmick. There's enough heart and soul on this trip to (and through) the movies. Trust me. And on the straight songs - the pieces where Haden sings with musical accompaniment outside and away from her own multitracked voice - you hear a beautiful voice.

On the other tracks you hear symphonies of beautiful voices all working hard to create something dynamic and fun too. All of them belonging to Petra Haden.

It's my favourite album this week. And it'll be my favourite album for a while.

Apart from her set of Who covers I don't believe there's anything quite like it.

And it's got me newly hooked on movie soundtracks. Again. It has me thinking of artists that redefined great movie soundtrack moments with their own distinctive takes, such as Buddy Rich doing West Side Story, Miles Davis with Porgy & Bess.

Petra Goes To The Movies is a work of art. You should hear it. You should go to the movies with her. She'll take you. She will.

Postscript: Click here to hear her version of the famous Psycho theme.

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