Noteworthy CD releases

Reviews of four recent soundtrack collections, from the stellar 'Hairspray' to the short and powerful score of 'The Lives of Others.'

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BECOMING JANE – Original Score by Adrian Johnston (Sony Classics): Adrian Johnston's score to this movie about Jane Austen starts with a depressing track called "First Impression." Taken as that, you'd think this was the score to "Becoming Sylvia Plath." Beyond it, though, the pieces are a soothing mixture of classical composer karaoke and period music, ranging in mood from upbeat and playful to somber and teary. While not as memorable as Stephen Warbeck's score to "Shakespeare In Love," the compositions skillfully suit the film's tone (see review). Grade: B+

HAIRSPRAY – Soundtrack to the Motion Picture (New Line Records): From the first word that the adorable Nikki Blonsky belts out in the first song, "Good Morning Baltimore," this album is a winner. Writers Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman have not only captured the energy and fun of John Waters's 1988 movie that inspired this remake, but they parse the gamut of pop sensibilities that made New York's famous Brill Building such a hit factory. "I Can Hear The Bells" is a lovely summation of lead character Tracy Turnblad (Blonsky) in just over four minutes, but it is Queen Latifah (as Motor Mouth Maybelle) who hits the high point on the gospel number, "I Know Where I've Been." Grade: A–

THE LIVES OF OTHERS – Score (Varese Sarabande): The big complaint listeners will have with Gabriel Yared and Stéphane Moucha's accompaniment to this Oscar-winning Best Foreign Film is that it is so short. There is not even 30 minutes worth of music on the disc, though that has to do with the sparing use of music in the film. The string-heavy orchestral arrangements are alternately forceful and creepy, moody and tender, smartly building an edgy and paranoid tone to illustrate the film's observation that, despite the government's soul-crushing surveillance in East Berlin, people tried to live as normally as possible. Grade: B+

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ONCe – Soundtrack (Columbia Records): This innately listenable songtrack by Glen Hansard (frontman of Irish group The Frames) and Czech singer Markéta Irglová – who play opposite each other in John Carney's glorious, unconventional screen musical – is a great stand-alone record, or at the very least an appetizer until the film is released on DVD. As a listening experience, it is an emotional body slam best taken all at once, though if one had to recommend a trio of downloads, then the dreamy Irglová solo "The Hill," the brutally honest "Lies," and the profoundly moving "Falling Slowly" would make the cut. Grade: A

VAN MORRISON AT THE MOVIES – Soundtrack Hits (Manhattan Records): This collection from the Irish rocker's career includes well-known songs in popular films ("Baby, Please Don't Go" from "Wild At Heart") as well as lesser-known tunes from arcane films ("Queen Of The Slipstream" from "Extreme Close-Up"). Highlights include unreleased versions of "Brown Eyed Girl" (from "Born On The Fourth Of July") and "Moondance" (from "An American Werewolf In London"). Grade: A–

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