Cool Hand Luke - The Retrospective Soundtrack Players Album Review
The idea of composing your own soundtrack to a favourite film is a great idea. It guarantees a built in, curious audience who are already familiar with the plot and characters of the film and are keen to see whether you've added something unique to the atmosphere of the movie. The only draw back is if you bugger it up everyone will hate you and accuse you of sacrilege and attempting to defile a classic. Imagine a death metal tribute to Lawrence of Arabia or a banging techno 'reworking' of A Fistful of Dollars. Eugh.
Happily, The Retrospective Soundtrack Players have laid no such musical egg and have produced a rather fine effort here with their 'concept-country/folk' imagining of a soundtrack to none-cooler 60's prison movie Cool Hand Luke. The six piece from Hampshire utilise events in the film as inspiration for their countrified songs and they've managed to conjure the sweat and dust of the deep sweltering deep South effectively (even though the film was shot in California, IMDB geeks).
For those not in the know, 'Cool Hand Luke' is the simple tale of a prisoner who refuses to have his spirit crushed by the authorities. Think One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest without the loonies and you're pretty close. Chain gangs, solitary confinement and escape scenes abound. The film features an Oscar winning performance from the excellent George Kennedy as Dragline and an Oscar nominated Paul Newman as the stolid titular hero.
Plastic Jesus is sung by Luke himself in the film, a banjo plucking, emotional performance by Paul Newman after Luke receives the news of his mother's death. The 'Players keep faithful to this initially with a weary plod through the tune, revisiting it at the end of the soundtrack in furious guitar slinging style.
Keep Your Head Down is a nice porch stomping kind of sing a-long with some great harp and banjo. Kyle Evan's singing isn't ever going to win him any awards, but his voice is on the right side of endearing - it suits these down home tracks just fine but on later songs it's just a little too wonky.
The real stand out tracks are excellent songs, performed well with a widescreen cinematic feel to them that effectively evokes the dusty landscape and the sweat and toil of the prisoner's day to day grind. Send Me The Hell Back Home might be the pick of the album; a raucous plea for freedom featuring powerful lyrics : "They might leave my body black and blue / They can't ever touch my soul / I don't care what I have to do / Just send me hell back home." Three Escapes is the longest song on 'Cool Hand Luke' and the most ambitious, a soaring, cinematic epic with some beautiful strings and lovely harmonies which is evocative of Spiritualised in a way. Stunning.
Overall, The Retrospective Soundtrack Players have come up with something rather special here. For those who've never seen the film, they've created a fine collection of country folk tunes, blending back porch stomping with hymns and gospel - even some polka rhythms at one point, to create an album which very much stands up on its own merits. With knowledge of the film, however, 'Cool Hand Luke' becomes a welcome accompaniment to a fabulous film. A superb idea brilliantly realised.
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