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CD review: J. Ralph and Various Artists, Wretches and Jabberers

J. Ralph and Various Artists
Wretches and Jabberers: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
[Rumor Mill (2011) release date: April 5, 2011]

Wretches and Jabberers is a documentary chronicling the global journey of Larry Bissonette and Tracy Thresher, two remarkable gentlemen who have severe autism-related speech impediments but have learned to communicate very effectively by typing.

The movie’s soundtrack, mostly composed by New York singer-songwriter-composer J. Ralph, is equally noteworthy, both for Ralph’s atmospheric compositions and the impressive roster of guest musicians who perform many of the songs. Thanks to the film’s theme and/or Ralph’s powers of persuasion, virtually everyone he asked to participate agreed, including a first-call roster of ‘60s UK folkies including Martin Carthy, Vashti Bunyan, Paul Brady, and Nic Jones, who acquits himself beautifully on vocals on “Pretty Words Lie,” his first studio recording since his 1980 auto accident. The other side of the pond is represented by another roster of 60’s and ‘70’s icons, including Stephen Stills, Judy Collins, Carly Simon, Bonnie Bramlett, and Bob Weir, whose wry, breathy vocals energize Ralph’s “Breaking the Hold.” Younger artists are also well represented, including Norah Jones, Scarlett Johansen, Lila Downs, Antony, Ben Harper, and Devendra Banhart, who performs the percussive “Lying Down Statues” with Ralph.

Although all of these musicians clearly put their stamp on the pieces they perform, the soundtrack is a tour de force for Ralph, whose songs work both as a Greek chorus for the film’s principals and as a artistic thematic whole as an album. In fact, the most moving piece on the disc is the opening track, “The Reasons Why,” an unapologetically tender folk song which is the only piece Ralph performs by himself.

—Michael Parrish (San Jose, CA)

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