SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews
The Hot Spot: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack – Universal Music Special Markets
Published on July 16, 2010
The Hot Spot: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack – Universal Music Special Markets stereo-only SACD CAPB 8755 SA, 40:49 ***** [Distrib. by Harmonia mundi]:
(Jack Nitzsche – composer; John Lee Hooker – guitar and vocal; Earl Palmer – drums; Tim Drummond – bass; Miles Davis – trumpet; Roy Rogers – slide guitar; Taj Mahal – guitar and vocals; Bradford Ellis – keyboards)
Cinema lost a titan when it lost Dennis Hopper earlier this year. Throughout several decades as an actor, writer, and director, Hopper invigorated cinema by taking his work and himself to sometimes dangerous extremes, but often returning to present his audiences with something genuinely novel and profound that no else had thought of or been willing to pursue. His talents as a director are particularly overlooked, in part because Hopper directed only a handful of films. Especially in his earlier pictures, music plays a pivotal role. The most obvious example is Steppenwolf’s Born To Be Wild in Easy Rider, but a better showcase of how Hopper used music (and his talents behind the camera) is his criminally under-appreciated masterwork of 1971, The Last Movie.
For the soundtrack to his 1990 film noir The Hot Spot, Hopper assembled many of his musical heroes and long-time friends. All-time greats from Jack Nitzsche and Taj Mahal to John Lee Hooker and Miles Davis were brought in to create a hard unforgiving blues soundtrack to Hopper’s Southern crime story. In the linear notes, Hopper discusses his long desire to work with these artists, even saying he wanted Davis to score every movie he ever made (this critic can only imagine what a Miles Davis soundtrack for The Last Movie would have been like).
Hearing such a record on SACD is a goose bump-inducing experience. Its common when listening to such high-fidelity recordings to feel that the musicians are in the room with you, but when those musicians are Miles Davis and John Lee Hooker playing together the effect is so intense that it will likely leave many listeners star-struck.
Like most soundtracks, many of the songs are variations on a few themes. The album opens with Coming To Town, which plays over the opening credits of the film as Don Johnson’s character Harry Maddox pulls into town. The interaction between Hooker’s guitar and Roy Roger’s slide guitar is awe-inspiring. Davis plays against the tense mood of the track, which adds a complexity to an otherwise bare blues. Hooker moans repeatedly “That wasn’t right”, foreshadowing events in the film.
The second track, Empty Bank, accompanies Maddox’s scoping out the town bank, owned by local eccentric Julian Ward (brilliantly played by Eraserhead’s Jack Nance). Mahal begins with an almost religious refrain, before kicking into a quiet and sly blues number. Davis’s playing is as inquisitive as Johnson as he explores the vulnerable vault..
Bank Robbery, the best track on the album, is a hard-driving blues, with a deep mean groove that sneers at the listener. Davis’ trumpet and Rogers’ slide guitar pivot and twist off the rhythm section and Mahal’s biting rhythm guitar riff.
The Hot Spot soundtrack is absolutely tremendous, and guaranteed to please any music or film fan. Its also a sad reminder that, because of his idiosyncratic vision, too strange for studio executives and sometimes for his audience, we didn’t get more films from Dennis Hopper while he was with us. We must appreciate what we have from a late great artist.
TrackList: Coming To Town, Empty Bank, Harry’s Philosophy, Dolly’s Arrival, Harry and Dolly, Sawmill, Bank Robbery, Moanin’, Gloria’s Story, Harry Sets Up Sutton, Murder, Blackmail, End Credits
– Ethan Krow