Whether it was on Sunday afternoons or when he would let me stay up past my bed-time to enjoy a movie with him, some of my strongest childhood memories are of watching Westerns with my Dad. He was always more partial to John Wayne but, when I was younger, it was Clint Eastwood’s interpretation of a cowboy in films like, The Good The Bad and the Ugly, that really made an impression on me. Eastwood was the type of gunslinger that I wanted to be; the way his eyes squinted and the way he smoked his cigar. Both a quiet enigma and a force to be reckoned with, he was an outlaw and the quintessential anti-hero. Equally as important was that he had a bad ass theme song, to boot. Like the late-60s equivalent of a modern day internet meme, Ennio Morricone’s title song paints the audio picture of a showdown. Even if you have never seen the movie or heard the actual song, that classic two-note melody is so ingrained in the annals of pop-culture, the odds are that you’ve probably heard some sort of reference to it somewhere. That soundtrack to The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly was in my father’s vinyl collection and I distinctly remember listening to it, imagining the scenes in my head, and, with the help of my action figures, reliving them in my pretend world, while playing the record in my basement. The music was so powerful that it made as much of an impression on me as the movies themselves or Eastwood’s portrayal of “Blondie” in those spaghetti westerns.
It has now been 45 years since The Good , The Bad, & The Ugly (1966) was released and it has, obviously, earned its place in pop-culture history. Evidence of Morricone’s lasting influence is supported by Brian Burton (Danger Mouse) and composer, Daniele Luppi’s latest project, ROME. Scheduled for a May 16th release date, ROME is essentially a soundtrack for a Spaghetti Western that, as of now, only exists in Burton and Luppi’s imagination. Their work on this current collaboration began 5 years ago, but it sounds as if these two may have had their own make-believe showdowns to the same music that made such an impression on me when I was young. DM’s controversial and critically acclaimed 2004 release, The Grey Album has made him an outlaw/hero of sorts in the music industry. Despite EMI’s objections to his unauthorized sampling of The Beatles‘ White Album and Burton’s intention to only distribute 3000 copies, both the project and his name gained instant and widespread popularity in the internet age. In 2010, “Sheriff” EMI also made attempts to block the distribution of DM’s Dark Night of the Soul, a project that Daniele Luppi was also involved with. Luppi‘s work primarily consists of accomplishments behind the scenes as a producer, composer, orchestrator, and even conductor. He was responsible for the string arrangements for Burton and James Mercer’s (The Shins) project, Broken Bells and contributed additional arrangements and MiniMoog to Gnarles Barkley’s (DM, Cee-Lo Green) St. Elsewhere album. Additionally, Luppi has worked with artists that range from the likes of John Legend to Mike Patton (Faith No More, Fantomas, Mr. Bungle). When Luppi and Burton collaborate together, the resulting work’s influence on pop-culture is subtle but prolific; not unlike Mo-Town’s legendary, The Funk Brothers, who made their mark in music history, quietly recording hit after hit for the label.
It was while working together on all those influential projects that the production duo first began laboring on ROME. The process of which has been long and intensive, reflecting the two’s passion for the work.
Via press release:
“Writing separately at first, and then together as the songs evolved – they travelled to Rome in October 2006. Luppi made some calls and they assembled the original musicians from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and Once Upon a Time in the West – including the legendary Marc 4 backing band and Alessandro Alessandroni’s ‘I Cantori Moderni’ choir. Most of the musicians were in their seventies and hadn’t worked together for several decades. They booked time in Rome’s cavernous Forum Studios – formerly Ortophonic Studios, founded, amongst others, by the great Ennio Morricone”
ROME is definitely a labor of love for Burton who, along with Luppi “scoured the city for vintage equipment, using bottles of wine as payment.” They researched the recording methods of the ones who inspired them and made “Every effort…to replicate the practices of the 1960s/70s golden age, recording live and straight to tape, with overdubs but no electronics, computers, 21st-century effects or studio trickery.” Burton, who financed the entire project himself, has stated that the album is built on “perfectionism, patience, being ambitious and two people who were prepared to go to great lengths to ensure the end result is exactly at it should be.”
After laying the original groundwork, Luppi and Burton needed to find the perfect male and female vocalists to capture the mood and ambiance of the project. While on tour with Gnarls Barkley, Burton had the opportunity to connect with fellow “outlaw”, Jack White [okay, so he hasn’t gotten in any legal battles over his music like DM, but he certainly dresses the part!] Jack’s work with the White Stripes alone, has already made its mark and carved out a place in music history. Outside of the group, White has also managed to bridge generational gaps and defy genres by working with greats like Jimmy Page, Loretta Lynne, and Alicia Keys. Taking this into consideration, it really seems right that Burton would ask the guitarist/vocalist to join the posse. On the hunt for a female lead, Burton was searching for a “softer, any-girl” type of voice. Five-time Grammy award winner, Norah Jones was chosen to fill the role. Although it is not like anything that Jones has recorded up to this point, Burton states the he “knew she was really up for it”.
ROME looks to transport the listener to a visceral place; much like music for The Good The Bad & The Ugly did for me when I was a kid. With its melancholy feel and haunting melodies, Burton describes ROME as a visual album which is, essentially, about love. Considering all of the time, money, and talent invested into the project, that would definitely make sense. With any luck, this collaboration will be able to forge it’s own unique place in pop-culture, alongside all of the previous works by ROME‘s individual contributors.