When veteran film composer Mychael Danna entered 2006, he probably thought his tradition-drenched, Renaissance-inspired score to this film about the opening chapter of "the greatest story ever told" would be heard by more people than the quirkier one he wrote for Little Miss Sunshine. But Sunshine was a Best Picture Oscar nominee and this one proved to be just a reasonably popular Jesus story. Recorded in Los Angeles, The Nativity Story score artfully blends native Middle Eastern instruments like Persian and Turkish ney flutes with more traditional pre-Baroque European ones like the viola de gamba, vielle, harp, and recorders. Danna's dual intent seemed to be to ground the story in its geographical roots while also underscoring the power the story had over the Western world in subsequent centuries.
2005 was quite the year for Norway's Madrugada. Their 4th record, "The deep end", outsold their others and swept every Norwegian award there was to be won. Proving that they know how to make hay while the sun shines, they've released not one, but two, follow-ups in less than a year's time. "Live at Tralfamadore" is a live record based primarily on their December, 2005 concert at the Oslo Spektrum, and "Live at Oslo Spektrum" is a DVD of that show. Both are more like top notch souvenirs than new additions to their catalogue (they themselves referred to the live record as #4.5 rather than #5), but both feature excellent songs performed with stellar musicianship and passion.
The soundtrack for first-time director Jason Reitman's satire of Big Tobacco spin plays like an amiable, city slicker sequel to O Brother, Where Art Thou?. Tex Williams' western swing standard "Smoke, Smoke, Smoke That Cigarette!" kicks things off with a mischievous grin, laying the groundwork for classics from Patsy Cline ("Three Cigarettes in an Ashtray"), Otis Redding ("Cigarettes and Coffee"), the Mills Brothers ("Smoke Rings"), and the Platters ("Smoke Gets in Your Eyes"). The thread is obvious, but the selections sound handpicked rather than researched solely on the basis of their subject matter. Composer Rolfe Kent, who brought such an excellent sense of place to 2004's Sideways, manages to echo the hipster swing of the Mancini-era '60s without sounding regressive, providing Thank You for Smoking with a cheerful brevity that keeps the spin more balanced than fair.