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The Music of HBO’s True Blood

In addition to the wonderful original background music written by Nathan Barr, one of the best aspects of True Blood is the choice of the individual songs that are featured in each episode.  In Season 1, we were turned on by all sorts of  unknown musical talent from cajun to alternative, and country to pop.  Much of the music used is found by True Blood’s creator, Alan Ball and his music department including, Gary Calamar.  Now that Season 2 is airing, we are again finding that this team is discovering and using yet more wonderful, but little known songs.

Recently, the blog called Rocks Off has decided to run a weekly article about True Blood’s Music.  Although they are picking up midway through Season 2, from here on out as each new episode airs, Rocks Off will provide a short report on the featured music.  Here’s their reviews of Episodes S2.06 and S2.07

Episode 2.07, “Release Me”

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Bad Livers is a band of Texas originals formed in the early ’90s by Danny Barnes and Mark Rubin. Though the band experienced little recognition from the music industry, they were adopted and enthusiastically backed by Austin punk bands despite their odd instrumentation, including tuba and accordion and bluegrass style.

The Livers’ first release was a sedate gospel cassette called Dust on the Bible. Though the band failed to pick up a record deal after making a splash at SXSW 1991, they toured supporting fellow Austinites Butthole Surfers. After several releases on Sugar Hill, they finished their run with the label with the releases of 2000’s Blood and Mood containing the song featured in Sunday’s (and Tuesday’s) episode, “Death Trip.” The band split after the album, which in Rubin’s own words ‘did the worst of all our albums,” with Barnes moving to Seattle and Rubin remaining in Austin.

How Ball and company came across “Death Trip” is not yet clear. What is pretty clear, though, is just how awesome the track is. Ominously hillbilly, the song details the story of a man on the receiving end of a woman’s loss of affection who proceeds down a steady road of poverty towards eventual ruin. Now, Rocks Off knows that sounds sad and gloomy, but trust us, a bouncy banjo puts a lot of spring in its step. Though the album tanked, the song is still easily available from iTunes.

The potential danger of human/monster relationships is a steady theme within the last several Season 2 episodes. Rocks Off has a very safe and respectable relationship with our Lunchables – as long as we remember the safety word – but somehow people’s dalliances with shape-shifters, vampires, religious fanatics and the odd pissed-off Maenad are suddenly leaving everyone almost dead. At least, almost so far.

The interplay of personal relationships is a little too complicated for this amount of column, but suffice to say that there is not a single character on the show currently in a physical relationship who is not inches away from packing their bags for their own death trip.

The genre of paranormal romance has blossomed to the point of filling an entire bookshelf at the Half Price Books on Westheimer and Waugh, and for one reason only: Everyone likes a little danger mixed in with their nookie from time to time, and True Blood uses that bit of fetish as the poison in its drink.

Oh, and the safety word is “The Count of Montrose.”

Episode 2.06, “Hard Hearted Hannah”

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“Hard Hearted Hannah (The Vamp from Savannah)” was a classic of the 1920’s Tin Pan Alley era of songwriting, and lent its name to the July 26 episode. Milton Ager was the one responsible for the humorous tale of a femme fatale who was the meanest girl in town. Ager was also responisble for “Happy Days Are Here Again,” a song that was used in the campaign of Franklin Roosevelt and has since served as the unnofficial theme song of the Democratic Party. “Hannah” is a popular standard, and has been covered by Peggy Lee, Ella Fitzgerald, Jim Croce and Nancy Sinatra, just to name a few.

It’s doubtful that Ager foresaw how his song would be used in True Blood, though. In a flashback to 1926, vampire Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer) plays the tune to a lively house party while his lover and maker Lorena (Mariana Klaveno) attempts to convince the house’s owners to have an afterparty/orgy with them. Moyer actually performs the song in the episode, having sung in musical performances like Pete Townshend’s “Iron Man” earlier in his career.

As the song ends, the scene shifts to Bill and Lorena drinking blood from their female victim while her husband is forced to watch. After silencing his screams with the classic horror/action movie neck-snap, they proceed to roll his wife out of the way and make sweet love in her puddles. Lorena almost cries as Bill removes the dying woman’s necklace and gives it to her as a present.

Like the song says, “To tease ‘em, and thrill ‘em, to torture and kill ‘em is her delight.” A perfect bit of gruesome vintage music from a show that’s already becoming a classic.

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