For the soundtrack to the new Civil War movie Cold Mountain, starring Nicole Kidman, Jude Law, and Renee Zellweger, director Anthony Minghella gave producer T Bone Burnett a monumental task. Burnett, who also compiled the Grammy-winning O Brother, Where Art Thou soundtrack, needed to bring together contemporary songs that could stand up next to the centuries-old gospel standards also to be featured in the movie.
"Those songs are so profound," Burnett says. "The difficulty is to write something today that profound -- especially when there's not a premium in the pop culture on that sort of thing."
Burnett wasn't looking to make an all-star soundtrack, so instead he enlisted a small, diverse circle of talent: Sting, Alison Krauss and Jack White. White -- who makes his acting debut in Cold Mountain as Georgia, a traveling singer -- contributes five tracks to the soundtrack.
"We brought Jack in because he's a great rock & roll singer," Burnett explains. "There's no one who comes close in the breadth of his knowledge, soul, generosity and courage."
Burnett also points out that White has a history with the American roots spirit and sounds of Cold Mountain. "He's not a kid who comes to this in this moment," Burnett says. "He's been singing this music for a lot of his life."
"T Bone brought me into this project," White says, "so I thank him for that forever. There are so many different things going on -- from blues to folk to country. I'm proud to be a part of it."
Sting contacted Burnett to ask if he could contribute to the project after reading the novel by Charles Frazier on which the film is based. He then wrote "The Scarlet Tide," a song Burnett calls "the voice of [the character] Ada calling Inman back to the mountain."
Krauss' vocals transform the song into a haunting hymn. "I wrote it for a woman," Sting says. "I was trying to sing it, but I couldn't do it. So it was great to hear this perfect voice translate my words."
Krauss, who worked with Burnett on O Brother, Where Art Thou?, also contributes "You Will Be My Ain True Love." "T Bone is a fan of traditional music," Krauss says, "and he displays it in the most pure way he can."
White, Krauss and Sting and several bluegrass musicians performed music from the film earlier this month in Los Angeles. Kidman, Law, and other actors from the film read portions of the book. Burnett is talking about mounting a tour based on the movie and music in April.
"I love this music," Burnett says. "I've always cherished it, and I'm happy to share it with others."