‘Tuned In’ review: Petra Haden’s ‘Movies’ gets stuck in a rut

Petra Haden's 'Petra Goes to the Movies'

Petra Haden's "Petra Goes to the Movies"

Petra Haden’s mostly a cappella renditions of mostly instrumental movie themes are as well-executed as can be expected on her new “Petra Goes to the Movies.”

And inevitably, many of them are annoying.

Certainly the release is an accomplishment, with Haden overdubbing her own voice to approximate the many instrumental parts of everything from the “Rebel Without a Cause” main title to the song “Hand Covers Bruise” from “The Social Network.” The works by composers such as Ennio Morricone (the theme for “A Fistful of Dollars”) and John Williams (the “Superman” theme) are brought to strange new life by Haden’s vocal drones and wordless exclamation-point sounds. She can do horns, keyboards, guitars, bass … and the songs are translated in loving tribute to the originals.

But it sounds like a bizarre bender, and even if her tone isn’t mocking, “Petra Goes to the Movies” is a shtick run amok.

Haden is quoted in a press release as saying the genesis for this album began when she was “little” and would mimic instruments with her voice. Indeed, this release is a sophisticated version of something a child might do.

It’s great at times – the more over-the-top the music, the more effective the technique. Haden’s mania on the “Psycho” main title is frighteningly hilarious, and her crazed version of “Carlotta’s Galop” (from “8-1/2”) is riveting.

In addition, although the novelty of “Petra Goes to the Movies” wears thin, Haden breaks from form to record lyrics, as on the “Goldfinger” main title (though she’s no Shirley Bassey) and even “Tootsie’s” “It Might Be You” (though she’s no Stephen Bishop either). Plus the a cappella theme is graciously broken by Brad Mehldau’s piano on “Calling You” (from “Bagdad Café” ) and Bill Frisell’s guitars on “It Might Be You” and “This Is Not America” (“The Falcon and the Snowman”), the latter of which also features Haden’s father, jazz great Charlie Haden, on bass.

Nevertheless, the self-indulgent gimmickry that dominates “Petra Goes the Movies” will likely leave you squirming in your seat. Not from the tension, but from the tedium.

Rating: 3 stars (out of five)

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