Interesting, but Ultimately Bland, Chamber Music
Alexander Payne’s dramedy Nebraska opened at the Cannes Film Festival this year to positive reviews in regards to the performances of Bruce Dern and Will Forte, offering what the Telegraph described as a “bittersweet elegy for the American extended family.” Film critics during Nebraska’s limited release have praised not only the film’s actors, but also the black and white aesthetic that accompanies the road trip film’s Midwest setting. Naturally, following these characteristics is a soundtrack inspired by folk and Americana, scored by Mark Orton of the bluegrass band Tin Hat.
While the style of the music fits the film well and the soundtrack is impeccably performed, the soundtrack lacks any sort of flair to set it aside for individual attention and enjoyment by most listeners. The music is very much background for what is, in essence, a road trip film; it’s easy listening that accompanies driving down a dusty road, but it lacks anything inherently special. Part of this is likely due to the instrumental quality of the music, which becomes old quickly when most of the tunes on the Nebraska soundtrack utilize a chamber music bluegrass ensemble. While this understandably could have been a directorial choice in creating songs to accommodate the somber, melancholy quality of the state of Nebraska, it cannot sustain itself out of context, and falls short of being seriously engaging.
The soundtrack deserves merit for the talent the members of Tin Hat trio put into their performances, as well as respect for the band’s innovative use of chamber music outside of a classical context. Tin Hat cannot, however, circumvent the overarching boring and repetitive qualities of the soundtrack, and thus this soundtrack unfortunately lacks that special touch to be more than an enjoyable listen for most.