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'The Hunger Games' songs deliver soulful despair

The Associated Press, Monday, March 19, 2012, 4:07am (PDT)

Various artists, "The Hunger Games: Songs from District 12 and Beyond" (Universal Republic Records)

It was never going to be easy, living up to the expectations of the devoted fans of "The Hunger Games." But Grammy-winning producer T Bone Burnett has managed to create a deftly meditative soundtrack to the movie adaption of the best-selling book, bringing together big names and indie darlings of all stripes on this guitar- and banjo-heavy release.

The surprise comes from the soulful direction of this 17-track album. One might have expected a more energetic and thrilling sound. A little bit country, a little bit indie and a little bit folksy, the mix makes for a rather charming recipe, pointing to themes of despair (Punch Brothers' "Dark Days"), injustice (The Decemberists' "One Engine"), loneliness, but also hope (The Secret Sisters' "Tomorrow Will Be Kinder") and humanity.

Double winners on this album are Grammy winners Taylor Swift and The Civil Wars, both with two tracks, one of which is a collaboration with each other, "Safe and Sound." Swift's more impressive contribution is "Eyes Open." Its lyrics offer a double entendre commentary on both the story's heroine, who has to be vigilant in order to stay alive, and the celebrity culture: "But now we've stepped into a cruel world / Where everybody stands and keeps score/Everybody's waiting for you to break down / Everybody's watching to see the fallout / Even when you're sleeping, sleeping / Keep your eye-eyes open."

Maroon 5 chips in with a Western-sounding ballad featuring Rozzi Crane, "Come Away to the Water," while Miranda Lambert brings out the big country guns with her group the Pistol Annies in "Run Daddy Run."

CHECK OUT THIS TRACK: Birdy hypnotizes with the eerie melody of "Just a Game" and her guttural vocals.

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