Short Cuts

-- Rafer Guzman

Various Artists
Good Will Hunting: Music From the Miramax Motion Picture
(Capitol/Miramax Records)

After directing a string of semi-arty films such as Drugstore Cowboy and My Own Private Idaho, Gus Van Sant weighed in recently with Good Will Hunting, a straightforward movie about a twentysomething genius (Will Hunting, played by Matt Damon) who confronts the personal demons in his past. Thanks to a handful of talented artists, the accompanying soundtrack does a good job of tracing Hunting's emotional checkpoints. The sweet-but-troubled songs of Elliott Smith are juxtaposed with more hard-bitten tracks (such as Gerry Rafferty's 1978 hit "Baker Street") and the occasional bit of bouncy, good-time fluff (such as Andru Donalds' ska interpretation of Jackson Browne's "Somebody's Baby").

Van Sant, who lives in Portland, Oregon, usually works that city into his films somehow. He does so here by way of bands. One is the Dandy Warhols, a pseudo-Britpop outfit from Portland who contribute the ultramodern track "Boys Better." Another is Smith, who is featured on six of the CD's fifteen tracks. Three of the songs here are taken from his 1997 album Either/Or (Kill Rock Stars), and two were previously unreleased.

Smith's sleepy songs, lightly decorated with Beatlesque harmonies, are tales of complex, uncertain relationships. On "Say Yes" Smith sings, "No one says until it shows and you see how it is/They want you or they don't/Say yes." The music, though understated, carries plenty of emotional freight. Another Smith song, "Miss Misery," has been nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song.

There is some genuinely good theme music here as well: Two pieces by the New-Waver-turned-composer Danny Elfman are full of tinkling piano, Irish pipes, and swelling choruses. But Smith's music is definitely the lifeblood of this soundtrack, which paints a picture of a young man fighting the world because he's afraid to live in it.

-- Daniel Lovering

The Ray Campi Quartet
Train Rhythm Blue
(Mouthpiece/Rounder)

Ray Campi, the '50s rockabilly legend and soul survivor, proves his continuing relevance to the younger generation of roots-rockers on his latest CD, Train Rhythm Blue. Featuring Skip Heller on guitar, Rip Masters on piano, and drummer D.J. Bonebreak (of the legendary punk band X), the Ray Campi Quartet chugs through a friendly jam recorded over three consecutive Sundays at a sixteen-track studio in Los Angeles.

It's a nifty collection of altcountry tunes, but there are so many Southern California scenesters here -- Dave Alvin (of the Blasters), Tony Gilkyson (who's played guitar with Jimmie Dale Gilmore), and singer-songwriter Stan Ridgway (who founded Wall of Voodoo) -- that Campi himself sometimes gets lost in the shadows. The CD evokes the underground club scene more than real-deal rockabilly, but Campi manages to hold the reins of this eclectic group and ride along with the various songwriting styles.

"Hot Water" and "Here Comes That Heartache" are about the only hardcore rockabilly numbers here, and the quartet gives them a dignified workout (though not a sweaty one). But Campi's smooth, smoky voice and his warm, resonant delivery are the record's main attraction, and he makes every syllable count. His deep tones enrich the caramelized guitar drippings of "Lorena" and the country strut of "Little Love Lies." On "Don't Forget the Train," Campi manages to sound even more wistful and lonesome than the whistling blues harp solo. That song provides one of the disc's real flashes of greatness.

The best songs here were written not by Campi but by his younger cohorts. "Luther Played Guitar" is a typically gritty and sharply observed Stan Ridgway number, while Dave Alvin's "Burning in Water, Drowning in Flame" is a cool hillbilly raver with a martini twist (and some exquisite solos by Masters, Alvin, and Heller). It's Heller's "An Honest Bar," however, that really stands out. With its twanging, burning guitars and spoken-word interlude, the song may be typical L.A. hipster chic, but Campi's suave authority gives it some real zing.

Purists will surely bemoan the fact that Campi wrote or cowrote only three of the album's twelve tracks. Still, the glimmer kids who Campi attracts have done a fine job of putting this '50s rocker in a decidedly '90s setting.

-- Robin Myrick

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