Album review

The Broken Circle Breakdown 

Motion Picture Soundtrack

added: 3 Dec 2013 // release date: 25 Nov 2013 // label: Universal Music Group International
reviewer: Claudia A

The Broken Circle Breakdown - Motion Picture Soundtrack - Printable version
Not only does the award-winning Belgium movie The Broken Circle Breakdown come with its very own soundtrack attached, but lead actors Veerle Batens and Johan Heldenbergh form part of the Broken Circle Breakdown Bluegrass Band – a group which came into life during the making of the film.

The movie’s plot concerns Elise (Veerle Baetens), a young tattooist in Ghent, and Didier (Johan Heldenbergh), a passionate banjo player in a local bluegrass band who dreams of ‘Americana’. While it is love at first sight for this unusual couple, and their enthusiasm for American roots music only deepens their romance – leading to marriage and the arrival of a baby girl – personal tragedy and loss soon begin to test the very foundations of their union. Intense and deeply moving, the film’s constant uplifting factor is the bluegrass soundtrack, often energetic and barn-stomping, occasionally filled with melancholy, but always poignant and fitting into every scene.

The soundtrack was composed by Bjorn Eriksson, who, apart from writing completely new arrangements, re-arranged traditional bluegrass/roots songs and infused them with his own ingredients. The result is the aforementioned Broken Circle Breakdown Bluegrass Band which, apart from Veerle (vocals), Johan (banjo, vocals) and Bjorn (guitars), also features Nils De Caster (violin, mandolin, vocals), Bert Van Bortel (guitar, mandolin, vocals), Thomas De Smet (bass), and Karl Eriksson (additional banjo, vocals). Such is the success of the soundtrack and the band (especially in their native Belgium) that a major tour is planned for 2014.

Opening track ‘Will The Circle Be Unbroken’ originally was a traditional hymn, before it was re-worked by A.P. Carter (of The Carter Family) as a folk song. The second line of chorus was then re-written again, this time by another group of artists. Over the decades, it has been performed by many a great country and rock legend, from Joan Baez to Pete Seeger, from Willie Nelson to Jerry Lee Lewis and the Black Crowes, to name but a few. Johnny Cash, who also performed the song as a staple, even incorporated the chorus into his famous song ‘Daddy Sang Bass’. And yes, the energetic rendition by the Broken Circle Bluegrass Band does the song more than justice.

‘The Boy Who Wouldn’t Hoe Corn’ – brought to success by Alison Krauss, here is beautifully performed with Veerle on the vocal forefront, while the Appalachian-hued banjo and male vocals provide the atmospheric intro. Starting out slow and gradually gaining speed, it is one of the album’s highlights.

The short and slow-burning ‘Dusty Mixed Feelings’ is one of Bjorn’s own compositions, and skillfully played by him, while Veerle’s heartfelt rendition of the gospel ‘Wayfaring Stranger’ brings tears to ones eyes. Another well-known gospel/hymn, namely ‘Over In The Gloryland’ also receives a fine makeover here.

The upbeat bluegrass instrumental ‘Reuben’s Train’ is followed by ‘Country In My Genes’, a Loretta Lynn classic which sounds just as energetic on the album, and performed by the Broken Circle Band!
Bjorn Eriksson once again shows off his excellent guitar skills during his own arrangements ‘Where Are You Heading, Tumbleweed?’ and the first-slow-then-real fast ‘Carved Tree Inn’.

We also get to hear three fantastic versions of Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Further On Up The Road’ (broodily sung by Johan), Lyle Lovett’s ‘Cowboy Man’ (another fine vocal performance by Johan, backed by simply a great band sounding particularly swampy), and Towne Van Zandt’s ‘If I Needed You’ – here offered as a spirited and harmonious duo by Veerle and Johan. It sucks you in and melts the senses.

Tennessee native Johnny Bellar’s instrumental ‘Sand Mountain’ is honored by Bjorn and band, the lot let rip on the dobro, banjo, violin, mandolin, guitar and bass.

The Robert Plant/Alison Krauss number ‘Sister Rosetta Goes Before Us’ (a musical tribute to gospel and jazz singer Sister Rosetta Tharpe) is given the makeover by Veerle – all sentiment and a very poignant number perfectly matched to one particular scene in the movie.

Closing track ‘Blackberry Blossom’ – an instrumental with bluegrass, Celtic and even Spanish influences will have every listener in a very good parting mood. A corker of an album, and don’t be prejudiced by the fact that this is a ‘movie soundtrack’ performed by a band most of you have never heard of. Take my word for it, it’s fantastic!

Please also read my movie review of ‘The Broken Circle Breakdown’ on our sister site

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5 stars

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