Like the films whose music inspired Rome, the album’s creation has a backstory: Bonded by an appreciation for the film soundtracks of Ennio Morricone, Gianfranco and Gian Piero Reverberi, and others, Brian “Danger Mouse” Burton and Daniele Luppi first set out to make their own take on that cinematic sound in 2005. Along the way, they secured a backing band of session players who graced some of Morricone’s most endearing scores, then nabbed a pair of collaboration-prone pop stars to give voice to the romantic yearnings within Rome: Jack White and Norah Jones. And while their work over that period of time didn’t produce anything as instantly memorable as Morricone’s windswept theme for The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly, Rome nonetheless calls to curious musical time-travelers.
Spaghetti-Western flourishes have colored past joint efforts from Burton and Luppi, but they don’t provide an entirely broad spectrum for Rome. Sure, there’s an epic, widescreen feel to instrumentals like “The Gambling Priest” and “Morning Fog,” but those tracks mostly play as mood music. They do bring tremendous performances out of the assembled musicians, however—particularly bassist Dario Rosciglione, whose liquid lines consistently cut through their sun-bleached surroundings. The contributions from White and Jones aren’t the best of their careers, but they do provide a welcome counterpoint to their typical output. Shying away from her name-making adult-contemporary stylings, Jones does lusty, dusky work on “Black,” proving there’s just as much Histoire De Melody Nelson as Once Upon A Time In The West in Rome’s DNA.
Homage is a tricky business: Stick too close to the real thing and you risk not making an impression; stray too far, and you might as well not cite your sources. Burton and Luppi don’t entirely lose their identities in the desert vistas of Rome—the record has all the crisp conciseness of a Danger Mouse production—but they might have created a better story than a record.