Bruce McDonald’s new documentary “Music from the Big House” has blues singer Rita Chiarelli visiting Louisiana State Maximum Security Penitentiary (a.k.a. Angola Prison) where she puts on a concert with the inmates there. What results is a tale of spiritual uplift and redemption as these prisoners serving sentences of 10 years to life show a love of music that helps get them out of the dark place they were once stuck in. On top of that, it produces a fantastic soundtrack that is a must buy even for those who haven’t seen this movie. Whether or not you are a fan of blues music, this soundtrack will have you up on your feet and clapping along with the rhythm.
Starting off this album is a piece of film score by Christopher Guglick called “Rita’s Journey” which illustrates the solemn nature hovering over her visit to a prison once known as the bloodiest in all of America. Before we get inside the prison walls, we get a good luck at the surrounding area and the music Guglick creates captures the stark and sad nature surrounding this penitentiary which reeks of death even on its outside. Another piece entitled “Convicted” ends captures the emotional nature of the crimes these convicts committed that put them behind bars as it is the first time we get specifics on what they had done.
For those not familiar with Chiarelli, she has been called the “Goddess of Canadian blues” and her passion is thrilling to take in here. Her first song on this soundtrack is “These Four Walls” which she wrote after making this documentary. It deeply illustrates the time she spent with these convicts and the bleak nature of life in prison. She wails like few others do, and you will be pinned back in your seat at how powerful of a singer she truly is. Listening to her will make you wonder why more people don’t know about her in America.
The music featured here however is not restricted solely to the blues as there are bits of church and country music to be found throughout. One standout band is The Jazzmen who will get you all riled up with their rendition of “Mississippi Boy” which is just boundless in its energy and joy. Among the other bands performing here are Pure Heart Messenger who bring the house down on “Glory Glory” and “Rain On Me” which has lyrics speaking to the salvation these inmates have found.
I also enjoyed the prison yard rehearsals featured here as Chiarelli works on getting the harmonizing just right. The tracks “Rest My Bones” and “Rain On Me” show how serious they all take this music and I am a sucker for all the melodies they come up with.
Like any great soundtrack to a musical documentary or concert movie, “Music from the Big House” really makes you feel like you’re in the room with these musicians as they perform their hearts out. Even if you don’t have the opportunity to see this great documentary, you owe it to yourself to buy the soundtrack which is as powerful as music will get in 2012.
NOTE: Part of the proceeds from the purchase of this soundtrack will go to the Angola Prison Music Program so that they can buy the equipment they need. It does not go directly to the inmates as that is not allowed.
Other soundtrack reviews by Ben Kenber: