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A Mighty Wind

Okay, so it's an album review and not a film review. Shoot me. What, I should make up a special graphic just for this? Hell no!

With the theatrical release of Christopher Guest & Co.'s new mockumentary offering A Mighty Wind being mercilessly withheld until Wednesday, I can only pass the time watching the trailer online and listening to the soundtrack album which was graciously released a week early.

A Mighty Wind follows the story of a memorial concert for Irving Steinbloom, a successful producer of folk music albums. The concert will bring together some of Steinbloom's most successful musical acts from yesterday and today, which creates an opportunity for the musical talents of Guest and collaborators Michael McKean and Harry Shearer to shine once again.

Guest, McKean, and Shearer were introduced to musical mockumentary in Rob Reiner's This Is Spinal Tap, and showcased their lyrical talents writing songs for the musical "Red, White & Blaine" in Waiting for Guffman. Now music is once again front and center, and the soundtrack album is more than just a collection of songs from the film – it's a companion piece, telling its own part of the story.

Three of the album's 17 tracks will not appear in the film in theatres. Guest's style of shooting these largely-improvised stories usually results in a great deal of material left on the cutting room floor, so it's entirely likely the songs were at some point intended to feature in the movie. But their presence on the soundtrack indicates to this reviewer that the intent of the album goes beyond that of most soundtrack collections. The album is meant to support the film as a chronicle of the careers of the three featured musical groups: The Folksmen, Mitch & Mickey, and The New Main Street Singers. Guest, McKean, and Shearer (with some very occasional help from their friends) have written some excellent songs which, in many cases, stand on their own as fine music even without the film's story. In the case of the music by The Folksmen, they intricately document with six songs a career spanning decades and experimenting – as such musical acts often do over time – with a number of genres and tones.

The songs on the delightful album are at times subversive, at times hyperbolically facetious, but always catchy and well-crafted. A few of the tracks even pay homage to the ouvre of folk music without making fun of it. The New Main Street Singers are the catchiest and most fun, with such offerings as "Just That Kinda Day," "The Good Book Song" (a rollicking reminder that we should follow the Bible's teachings) and "Potato's In The Paddy Wagon" which tells the story of Potato, a youngun born in the potato cellar and caught up in a romantic entaglement with the town sheriff. Mitch & Mickey's lilting, sappy songs tend to poke fun at the often melodramatic tone of folk music, but their "The Ballad Of Bobby And June" is a deeply moving re-telling of the "Billy Don't Be A Hero" story, set during the Civil War.

The Folksmen, however, are the clear centerpiece of the soundtrack. The core to which the others play foil. Their songs, performed by Guest, McKean, and Shearer, span the career of a band that has clearly been through many changes and had to reinvent themselves along the way. "Old Joe's Place" starts them off, a fantastically catchy and almost familar tune about a welcoming local eatery. "Never Did No Wanderin'" is a logical follow-up, the kind of song such a group would perform as their fan base broadened. (And a song which appears again on the album, covered by The New Main Street Singers, in a brilliant and realistic stroke.) The group then experiments with a reggae sound ("Loco Man"), Latin ballad style ("The Skeletons of Quinto") and pop music (a breathtaking and hilarious cover of The Rolling Stones' "Start Me Up"). Along the way, they produce "Blood On The Coal," the story of a mine train disaster in the 19th century and probably the most gripping of the album's tracks.

The soundtrack album to A Mighty Wind serves as an excellent preview of what's to come and a pleasing way to bring some of the movie home. I've had it in my CD player all week (and my iPod) and it's a great way to enjoy some of the strengths of folk music (simple, catchy songs with a fun, upbeat message) while maintaining a little distance from the real thing. And Parker Posey is as cute in song as she is in the movies.