Jack White performs traditional arrangements among Cold Mountain‘s Appalachian ballads and 19th-century sundries, and what a perfect opportunity for him to play up his blues-and-authenticity obsession. On T Bone Burnett’s dark, hour-long homage to American roots music, Jack contributes five tracks; the only original, “Never Far Away,” isn’t even in the film, and recalls any of the Stripes’ quieter, more boring tunes. But his other songs—especially “Sittin’ on Top of the World”—are more pretty than postured.
Oldey-timey purists have been debating Jack’s performance (one righteous amazon.com post we’re not used to hearing: “Will someone please give Jack White some talent?”), not to mention Alison Krauss’s two plaintive numbers (Elvis Costello’s “Scarlet Tide,” Sting’s painfully precious Gaelic “You Will Be My Ain True Love”). But the soundtrack’s most astonishing offering is the superlatively joyful “I’m Going Home.” The Sacred Harp Singers recorded this rapturous, two-minute a cappella choral piece at a Baptist church in Henagar, Alabama; Burnett says he “put out a call for everybody to meet at the Sand Mountain church and 80 or 90 people showed up from all over the country.” Given Cold Mountain‘s Civil War-appropriate themes of death and hopelessness, this untentative burst of shape-note singing stands out in a forlorn landscape.