Music From The HBO Limited Series Big Little Lies – Abkco Records (2017) 8412-1 180-gram stereo double vinyl ****1/2:
A vinyl soundtrack from Big Little Lies – Season 1 is terrific!
(Featuring Leon Bridges; Michael Kiwanuka; Charles Bradley; Martha Wainwright; Leon Bridges; Kinny with Diesler; Agnes Obel; Alabama Shakes; Irma Thomas; Villagers; Zoe Kravitz; Daniel Agee; Jimmy Valley; Jean-Phi Goncalves; Ituana)
Big Little Lies is a testament to the unerring, explosive content of premium cable and HBO. Based on Liane Moriarty’s best-selling book, the limited series stars Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern, Shailene Woodley and Zoe Kravitz in a dark comedy about an idyllic Central California town that devolves into a psychic nightmare. The tradition of music enhancing television has been present since its inception. Whether it’s the benign whistling theme of The Andy Griffith Show or the heart-pounding strains in The Fugitive, musical content has provided a visceral connection between the show characters and the audience. The advent of non-network, unedited programming has added a significant personal element to the associated music.
Abkco Records has released a double vinyl soundtrack of the first season of Big Little Lies. With an inventive format, the songs are directly related to the on screen characters. It is like they are welcoming the listener to their specific playlist. Side 1 kicks off with the mesmerizing opening credit song, “Cold Little Heart”. With a single piano chord and understated lush orchestration, the atmospheric mood is set with the inevitable chilling undercurrent. After an electric guitar run, a pop channel is established. As the guitar becomes more distorted, there is a pulsating, hypnotic effect. Finally a r & b downbeat is accompanied by Michael Kiwanuka’s soulful lead vocals. This arrangement builds intensity as its musical evolution continues. An acoustic guitar is a final textural component. There is a palpable soul influence on the soundtrack. On “Victim Of Love”, Charles Bradley’s gritty vocals (with some talking) displays a classic gospel touch that is worthy of Wison Pickett or Otis Redding. It is concise and effective. Canadian Martha Wainwright contributes biting social commentary on the “hide the children” titled “Bloody Mother F*****g A*****e”. Her urgency and lyrics of defiance are framed by her elastic vocal style. The three word colloquial refrain is both serious and comical and enhances the message.
Side 2 is an excursion into the wide array of r & b bliss. Leon Bridges smooth voice glows with Sam Cooke resonance on “River”. The utilization of acoustic guitar and tambourine set up an early 60’s vibe. The inherent beauty of gospel flows gracefully. As the chorus intones, “…Take me to your river, I wanna know”, there is an aspirational quality that is executed with beautiful harmony. Switching to a funk hook, Kinny (feat. Diesler) lays down quirky attitude with the relentless steady groove on “Queen Of Boredness”. In a change of pace, Agnes Obel’s gorgeous piano instrumental “September Song” integrates contemporary and classical piano structures. Her commanding technique includes a rolling left hand. Drawing on Southern Blues. Alabama Shakes (“This Feeling”) insinuates a relaxed flow with scaled down instrumentation and Brittany Howard’s exquisite upper register singing. The consistency of the “playlist” is sustained throughout the album. Charles Bradley returns with a Stax/Memphis vibe on “Changes”. His ode to lost love (“…I’m goin’ through changes, I hurt so bad”) is steeped in organ and horns, creating a “stroll”. The appearance of Irma Thomas (“The Soul Queen Of New Orleans”) is wonderful. Her self-penned “Straight From The Heart” is rhythm and blues testimony about speaking from within. The Villagers contribute two cuts. The first “Nothing Arrived” is a folky guitar and vocal with a jaunty tempo juxtaposed against whimsical musings. The second track is an alt-pop update of the Elvis Presley hit, “The Wonder Of You”. Without imitating the King, the goofy essence of the song is captured. Cast member Zoe Kravitz covers another Elvis tune (Lieber and Stroller’s “Don’t”) with quiet poignancy.
The Elvis train rolls on Side 4. The authenticity of the Chet Atkins/Bryant Boudleaux classic “How’s The World Treating You” is handled adroitly by Daniel Agee. A swaying piano is a nice touch. Jimmy Valley’s halting vocal delivery on “Treat Me Nice” transforms the number and is augmented by a deft organ. The production brings these old songs into the modern context of the series. That dynamic is elegantly articulated on the breathless instrumental “Now Or Never” (Jean-Phi Goncalves). With studio-laden guitar effects and ambient sound, there are cinematic and meditative harmonics that inhabit this fresh take. The finale is a low-key version of The Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”. Ituana’s hushed vocal delivery against a two-chord opening piano vamp is catchy and eventually the song glides into the restrained B.L.L. aesthetic.
Music from The HBO Limited Series Big Little Lies is a great achievement. Jean Marc Valle, Susan Jacobs and Jean-Phi Goncalves have done a superior job in producing this musical tapestry. There is a discernible mood that permeates the musical performances and the overall quality is strengthened by the open studio acoustics.
Side 1: Cold Little Heart; Victim Of Love; Bloody Mother F*****g A*****e
Side 2: River; Queen Of Boredness; September Song; This Feeling
Side 3: Changes; Straight From The Heart; Nothing Arrived; Don’t; The Wonder Of You
Side 4: How’s The World Treating You; Treat Me Nice; It’s Now Or Never; You Can’t Always Get What You Want