Quentin Tarantino’s soundtracks, like his films, are works of expert connoisseurship: pop-culture history lessons, assembled with a crate-digger’s impeccable taste. The soundtrack for Django Unchained is typically all-over-the-place: spaghetti-Western themes, Seventies folk rock, raucous acoustic blues, James Brown, Rick Ross. The film pays homage to the fizzy Italian cowboy movies of the Sixties and Seventies, and Tarantino often goes to the source, borrowing spaghetti-Western chestnuts like Ennio Morricone’s “The Braying Mule.” There are well-chosen originals here, too. In “100 Black Coffins,” Ross’ menacing boasts are tricked out with high-lonesome whistles and booming vocal chorales – a seamless mix of Morricone-ism and millennial hip-hop bombast.
But Tarantino’s musical choices have a quality often overlooked in discussions of his work: heart. John Legend’s “Who Did That to You?” and the Anthony Hamilton-Elayna Boynton duet “Freedom” are rugged neosoul ballads, full of suffering and resolve. Then there’s the biggest surprise, “I’ve Got a Name,” by Seventies folk cornball Jim Croce – the unlikely anthem of the freed slave Django’s transformation from human chattel to human being. It’s a signature Tarantino trick: He excavates a pop artifact widely maligned as trash, champions its coolness and reveals its beauty. What more could you ask for from a DJ?