Music From Season 2 Of The HBO Limited Series Big Little Lies – ABKCO Records 8595 stereo double vinyl, 55:31 ****1/2:
Visceral soundtrack from Big Little Lies Season 2 is terrific.
(Featuring music by The Spinners; Elle King; Cassandra Wilson; Ann Peebles; Phoebe Killdeer And The Short Straws; Brenton Wood; Charles Bradley feat. Menahan Street Band; Donnie And Joe Emerson; POP ETC; Leon Bridges; Jim James; Willie Nelson feat. Paula Nelson; Christina Vierra And The Ryan Rehm Band; Elizabeth Cotten And Brenda Evans)
For those who watch the HBO Limited Series Big Little Lies, the soundtrack is a playlist selected by the show’s characters. The music is a symbolic backdrop to the halcyon Monterey community that is slowly unraveling from deception, mayhem and societal dysfunction. Featuring a strong cast, including Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern, Shailene Woodley and Zoe Kravitz, the already fragile unrest of this seaside community is under greater stress with the arrival of a mother (Meryl Streep) questioning the mysterious death of her son. The Season 1 soundtrack was represented musically with a healthy dose of traditional and modern soul music. Season 2 continues the template with expanded contexts. Side 1 opens with the feel-good 1972 Spinners hit, “I’ll Be Around”. This is classic 70’s soul with low-keyed guitar hooks, organ accents and a steady rhythm section (bass/drums). Lead singer Bobby Smith silky vocals resonate, and is augmented by gospel-like back up singers. String and horn embellishment brigs a studio polish. Switching to modern r & b, Elle King exudes bluesy sway on “Good Thing Gone” (from her 2018 album, Shake The Spirit). Plaintive vocals are surrounded by lavish production alternating between alt pop and soul. A big surprise is Cassandra Wilson’s cover of the Neil Young hit “Harvest Moon”. The arrangement is atmospheric, with a somber resonance. Wilson’s sultry alto displays a hushed elegance with a slightly lilting transition. It is markedly soulful, but there is a trace of country inflection at the end.
Side 2 has four memorable tracks. The legendary Memphis soul artist Ann Peebles (who wrote and sang “I Can’t Stand The Rain”) distills a slow-burning intensity on “Until You Came Into My Life”. Her pleading vocal style and rawness drive this song. There is a solid Memphis arrangement to back her up. Shifting gears, Phoebe Killdeer And The Short Straws insinuate a cinematic hypnotic pulse on “The Fade Out Line” (from the 2014 album). With straight-ahead studio work, the song approximates alt-rock with funky guitar hooks. Returning to r & b, Brenton Wood’s 1970 “Great Big Bundle Of Love” is more relaxed and benefits from a distinctive falsetto. The self-proclaimed “Screaming Eagle Of Soul” Charles Bradley (who was featured on the Season 1 soundtrack) cuts loose with old school potency on “Let Love Stand A Chance”. it is difficult not to draw comparisons to the immortal Otis Redding. Gritty and urgent, this is a testament to the power of soul music.
Big Little Lies has a history of resurrecting obscure music. It is never more apparent than on the 1979 tune, “Baby”. Performed by Donnie & Joe Emerson (who hailed from the sparsely populated Fruitland, Washington). This basic 2-chord keyboard groove repeats throughout as if it is part of the ether. An acoustic guitar-focused version of Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” (by POP ETC) is more up tempo, but captures the ethereal aesthetics of Stevie Nicks. The harmonies on the chorus are stunning. Returning to Season 2, Leon Bridges unleashes his version of slow, countrified soul with both acoustic and electric guitar. As with all of the music, it fits the spirit of the show. Jim James (My Morning Jacket) digs down deep into a tempo reverie (“Why Can’t We Live Together”), highlighted by emotional vocals and keyboards. It is moving and ear-catching.
Just when you think this soundtrack is predictable, Side 4 comes unexpectedly. Country icon Willie Nelson and his daughter Paula team up for a duet of the 1970 Credence Clearwater Revival hit, “Have You Ever Seen The Rain”. Willie’s low-keyed, weary “talk-sing” vocals are evocative. The harmonies are excellent and touches like an accordion and pedal steel are exquisite. Of course, Willie solos on his vintage acoustic guitar. Reaching further back into the 60’s, Christina Vierra (with The Ryan Rehm Band) channels Janis Joplin on “Piece Of My Heart”. Rather than distance herself from “The Pearl”, she summons the gruff vocal contours and unleashes them with a fury. The band faithfully invokes the Big Brother instrumentals. In a wonderful heart-warming finale, blues/folk legend Elizabeth Cotten (early cotton picking guitar stylist) sparkles on “Shake Sugaree”. Her deft finger-picking and whimsical voice define American Roots.
Music From Season 2 Of The HBO Limited Seres Big Little Lies is a vibrant eclectic compilation of music. For fans of the show, there will be a direct connection to individual episodic scenes and characters. And those who have not seen the show will revel in the quirky, accessible four-sided playlist.
I’ll Be Around
Good Thing Gone
Until You Came Into My Life
The Fade Out Line
Great Big Bundle Of Love
Let Love Stand A Chance
That Was Yesterday
Why Can’t We Live Together
Have You Ever Seen The Rain
Piece Of My Heart