Growing up on a riverbank in the rural outskirts of Arkansas is equal parts bleak and beautiful. The stark landscape can feel confining, but when it is all you know (or the only place you want to be) it is easy to find the beauty in the things that surround you. And that is how we find Mud (Matthew McConaughey), a charismatic drifter with an eye for this beauty, but one who ends up in the exact place he should not be. Mud is a story of redemption, but Mud himself is driven by another emotion: love. And it is his love story that captures the attention of two young local boys, Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland), who end up learning more about themselves while trying to help Mud escape his own troubled fate.
The film’s music, created primarily by David Wingo and Lucero, creates a captivating duality of sounding both ominous and playful (much like Mud himself.) Wingo, who also created the music for director Jeff Nichols last film, Take Shelter, clearly knows how to bring Nichols’ vision to life and make his worlds feel like an interesting combination of tangible and magical elements. Ben Nichols, whose track “Shelter” also appeared on the Take Shelter soundtrack, returns with two new blue-grass infused songs, “Davy Brown” and “The Kid,” which bring texture to Ellis and Neckbone’s world while tracks like Wingo’s “Juniper” add that sense of magic.
Wingo and Lucero come together on only the first and last tracks, “Opening” and “Ending.” “Opening” slowly brings listeners into the world of Mud with barely there instrumentation that introduces the ominous, but entrancing, strings which drive the rest of the soundtrack. This bluegrass sound makes up the fabric of Mud’s world, but also hints at something slightly amiss.
“Ending” brings in more fleshed out piano elements, but those foreboding strings keep that feeling of needing to look over your shoulder ever present. Beyond these two pairings, Wingo mainly focuses on bringing that ominous, magical feeling with his tracks while Lucero brings out the grit and tangibility of the film.
Artists like Dirty Three add to this gritty feeling with tracks like “Alice Wading,” “This Night,” and “In Fall.” Sounding almost like music that rose up from the banks of the Arkansas river itself, Dirty Three is actually from Melbourne, Australia, but their sound fits in perfectly with Mud’s sonic landscape adding to the film’s distinct sound and character.
This soundtrack’s track list is slightly longer than your standard 10–12 songs, clocking in with 29 songs total, but none of the tracks ever feel (or sound) extraneous or unnecessary. Varying in lengths from standard 2:00–3:00 minute long tracks to shorter tracks (such as “Leaving Island” or “One Last Letter”) that are only 0:30–0:50 seconds long, Mud’s music works to truly bring you into this world. While the performances are what stand out the most in the film, the music certainly adds to the overall effect of the narrative and works well even in solo listening.
Mud is engaging from beginning to end and when listened to on its own, its soundtrack is almost a sonic dream of that narrative, highlighting the various emotions and changes each character goes through. Mud is certainly not without its unsettling and pulse-pounding moments, which the music strategically amplifies in tracks like “Hotel” and “Clinic,” but overall the soundtrack plays like one you would listen to while spending a lazy day on a porch swing.
The soundtrack for Mud is available through Lakeshore Records.
1. “Opening” – David Wingo & Lucero
2. “Where’d He Go” – David Wingo
3. “Leaving Island” – David Wingo
4. “Take You Away” – Lucero
5. “Sleeping In Trees” – David Wingo
6. “Juniper” – David Wingo
7. “Alice Wading” – Dirty Three
8. “Back to the Island” – David Wingo
9. “Tom Blankenship” – David Wingo
10. “This Night” – Dirty Three
11. “Davy Brown” – Ben Nichols
12. “Carver” – David Wingo
13. “Everything You Need” – Lucero
14. “The Kid” – Ben Nichols
15. “King” – David Wingo
16. “Stealing Motor” – David Wingo
17. “Hotel” – David Wingo
18. “Looking For Juniper” – David Wingo
19. “Leaving Bar” – David Wingo
20. “Lost Love” – David Wingo
21. “Something Else On His Mind” – David Wingo
22. “One Last Letter” – David Wingo
23. “May Pearl” – Jeff McIlwain
24. “Snakebite” – Lucero
25. “Clinic” – David Wingo
26. “Mud and Juniper” – David Wingo
27. “Aftermath” – David Wingo
28. “In Fall” – Dirty Three
29. “Ending” – David Wingo & Lucero
Mud hits theaters next Friday, April 26th, and you can also read my review of the film from this year’s Sundance Film Festival here.