By Mark Kemp
Even if you don’t follow Big Love, the HBO series about a polygamous family for which David Byrne wrote these mostly instrumental beauties, you can enjoy the music. Like The Catherine Wheel (which this sounds nothing like), the music from Big Love actually holds together better than most of Byrne’s vocal-based albums. Inspired by church hymns, the music combines the harmonic sensibility of Brian Wilson with the breadth of a Bernard Hermann soundtrack and the surreal soundscapes of original cocktail king Martin Denny. The set begins with the praiseworthy “Art Thou Greater Than He,” the kind of piece a church organist might play as a lead-in to a Sunday morning service — until the vocal chorus comes in and transforms the composition into what sounds more like an outtake from Pet Sounds. From there, Byrne winnows his way from the vibes-fueled exotica of “A Hill in Ontario County” to the Ennio Morricone-inspired spaghetti-western atmospherics of “A Building in the Air” and “Great Desolations” to the Ry Cooder-like slide-guitar ambiance of “The Mouth of Malachai.”
With all these influences, it might seem as though Byrne hasn’t put himself into these pieces, but each track bears his undeniable stamp. There’s a direct continuity from early Talking Heads songs like “The Big Country” through Byrne’s 2004 chamber-rock album Grown Backwards to tracks here like “Deep Water,” a keyboards-driven song with programmed beats and a whimsical melody line from a guitar that sounds almost like a theremin.