Faber and Faber (label)
07 February 2008 (released)
16 April 2008
As concepts go, a soundtrack to a book is 'different’ if nothing else I suppose; a novelty or curio to help sell a novel by a musician, thus selling his book to fans of his band and selling his music to the uninitiated that may have stumbled upon his book.
I am a cynic. I look for stunts like this all the time. I am also a fan of Richmond Fontaine, Willy Vlautin’s band, so I’m biased too. This may be a difficulty for my fellow cynics, who will now think, 'ah, but he’s biased, so he can’t possibly tell us the truth about this book-soundtrack-thing'.
Well, firstly if I were about to lie to you, I wouldn’t have just told you all that I’m a biased cynic. Secondly, let’s look at the facts: most critics are agreed that Willy Vlautin is a visionary lyricist, exceptionally talented songwriter, and surrounded by a group of stunningly talented musicians.
Put the facts together:
1: I’m not lying to you;
2: Willy Vlautin’s writing is awesome;
3: Willy Vlautin’s music is awesome.
Combine any two of the above three facts and you have a pretty amazing package in Northline.
Unfortunately I’m not here to review the novel, which incidentally is a gripping story of abuse, disillusionment and adversity. I am, however, here to review the soundtrack to the novel, a limited edition 14 track CD of instrumentals available with all first edition copies of the book.
A collaboration of sorts between Vlautin and Paul Brainard (pedal steel guitarist in Vlautin’s band), and a by-product of the creative process for the author, the music mirrors perfectly the gentle rawness of Vlautin’s writing. Oddly beautiful throughout, yet imbued with an uncomfortable drowsiness, many of the 14 instrumentals seem to tread through the same corridors as Vlautin’s central character, Allison Johnson, who is remarkable as she is unremarkable; resilient as she is fragile.
The brief notes to the soundtrack state that it is Vlautin’s hope that through his music 'the novel will stay alive a bit longer' and the listener will be inspired to think about the characters he has created. I can attest that his hope in this respect has been realised. Not once throughout this soundtrack does Vlautin fail to capture the passion thrown into and bound up in his literary work.
Not a comfortable read, but worthwhile and ultimately rewarding, Northline, in its enhanced 1st edition format, is a winning combination.