Harold Arlen, Ira
Gershwin & Ray Heindorf,
A Star is Born
(Sony, 2004)

The story behind the film A Star is Born is probably more interesting than the soundtrack. That's not to say the soundtrack is bad; actually, it's fairly good. Simply put, the continual melodramatic back-story concerning the 1954 comeback musical for Judy Garland has more entertainment value than this at-times-good but mostly ho-hum soundtrack.

Yes, I realize it's Judy Garland -- that name has become synonymous with unquestioning star quality. There's plenty of Garland in this album, with her belting out songs in her grandiose style. But you've got to put her performances in this soundtrack in context with all of her other works. It holds up well enough, but doesn't really grab you. This is one of those soundtracks in which the visual element is not only appreciated, it is nearly vital. When listening to Judy Garland, you've got to have a sensory juxtaposition: viewing her petite frame while listening to her boisterous voice.

Beyond the "Judy Garland" aspect of the soundtrack, the instrumental numbers written by Harold Arlen are fabulous. This is Hollywood music at its finest. The "Overture" excels at encapsulating the entire film's music into two minutes, providing the ears a hint of what's coming. "Night of the Stars" fosters nostalgia, recalling the old cinematic newsreels prior to the feature film. The instrumental ending of "Cheatin' on Me" is lounge music at its best.

While A Star is Born has enjoyable qualities, this soundtrack is indubitably designed for hardcore Garland fans. There's a lot of her lesser-known work and some previously unreleased recordings, including an interesting rendition of "The Trinidad Coconut Oil Shampoo Commercial." If you're not a diehard Garland fan but do like golden-age Hollywood, then you might want to check out this album but put it lower on your list. There are some great ditties but not enough "oomph" that other soundtracks from that era might offer.

- Rambles
written by C. Nathan Coyle
published 31 July 2004

Buy it from Amazon.com.