If you’re a traditional country fan, you’re already used to feeling like a foreigner in your own time and place; an oddball, an outcast, forgotten, a freak. Who would want to listen to those old, outmoded songs, or even new ones that emulate them?
The new movie called Yellow Rose starring Eva Noblezada as Rose Garcia, and co-starring Dale Watson as himself, challenges the audience to consider what it would be like to be a traditional country fan with all those lonely and foreign feelings, while being an immigrant and undocumented as well. The answer is best found in the original songs written by Dale Watson and the film’s director Diane Paragas, which comprise the movie’s most defining moments, along with a stellar soundtrack that works as both a compelling standalone, or companion piece to the film.
True country fans love to tell you about the falling talent levels in the mainstream of country, and how most anyone could do a better job playing and singing than the folks that end up on big radio. Granted, Eva Noblezada is not most anyone. A Tony Award-winning Broadway actress who’s played roles in Miss Saigon, Les Misérables, and most recently the musical Hadestown, she’s not entirely unfamiliar with performing, or singing.
But the heart and talent Eva Noblezada brings to the original songs of Yellow Rose puts her well above par for performing country music. It’s not just her natural talent for range and pitch. Eva’s attention and to the subtleties of country singing, from knowing when to allow the voice to crack, and even adding a little bit of “twang,” there’s no suspension of disbelief necessary to fall for these songs that come straight from her heart.
Dale Watson also shows up to sing an original song in “Life Out on the Road,” which Dale performs in the movie from the stage of the legendary Broken Spoke in Austin, TX where this film about a Filipina falling in love with country music is based. And to fit with the film’s cross-cultural theme, cast member Lea Salonga—who play’s Rose Garcia’s aunt—sings a Filipino song “Dahil Sa lyo” originally recorded for a movie in the late 30’s that became a hit in the United States in 1964 through a version with Tagalong lyrics. “Dahil Sa lyo” is still popular through the Philippines, and in many American communities with Filipino populations.
And yes, the music of the Yellow Rose soundtrack is very much traditional country (aside from “Dahil Sa lyo”), and is specifically steeped in the Texas honky tonk style with plenty of steel guitar. Since these songs were recorded to fit the movie format, some are not much more than a verse or maybe two before focusing on the chorus. That makes the six original songs from the soundtrack a little on the short side, with the exception being “Square Peg,” which sets the mood for the entire movie, balanced by the much more positive and affirming “Quietly Into The Night”—one of multiple duets Noblezada and Watson perform together.
But even with the short songs such as “Circumstance” that is taken from a live scene with Dale and Eva during the movie, the sentiments about struggle, not knowing where your home is, and failing to fit in are emotions that are all too familiar and perfectly encapsulated in the writing and performance of these songs. If director Diane Paragas wanted a second occupation as a songwriter, she could have one, as could Eva Noblezada as a country performer.
The 17-track album also includes the score of ambient music found throughout the film composed by Christopher H. Night. This material makes up tracks 8 through 16, which may not offer much aside from something to let play in the background. All told the original country songs on the Yellow Rose soundtrack make up an EPs worth of material, but its a full album’s worth of quality country songs worth bending your ear towards, especially with how their stories are brought to life in the film.
True country is meant for the heartbroken and forlorn, the nostalgic and lost. It’s their compass, and their home, when none other presents itself. And as both the Yellow Rose film and its corresponding soundtrack illustrate—as does the fandom for country music that spans across the globe—country music is for everyone, no matter who they are, or where they’re from.
1 3/4 Guns Up (8/10)
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Purchase Yellow Rose (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)