Review: “The Wire: ‘…and all the pieces matter.’ – Five Years of Music from the Wire”

The Wire: “and all the pieces matter.” – Five Years of Music from the Wire
Nonesuch

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Despite not being honored with an Emmy or a Golden Globe, HBO’s original series The Wire remains a favorite among critics and discerning television viewers alike. No other drama in recent memory has managed to examine the drug game head on, while simultaneously addressing how the police, politicians, public schools, and the press are all connected to this ongoing urban dilemma. Arguably it’s the scripts of David Simon (and others), as well as the untrained local actors, that make this series set in Baltimore so striking. But in the course of show’s five seasons, music has served as far more than an afterthought. The Wire: “and all the pieces matter” compiles an incredibly varied set of tunes from the show, along with snippets of some of the best dialogue.

If there’s one downside, it’s that most of the hip-hop cuts are brushed back towards the end. (While Nonesuch is also releasing a separate disc of Baltimore hip-hop called Beyond Hamsterdam: Baltimore Tracks from the Wire, many of those tracks appear on and all the pieces matter.) Then again, trying to sequence this compilation must have been daunting. When you have everything from Baltimore club classics (Rod Lee’s “Dance My Pain Away”) to punk-inspired Irish folk (the Pogues’ “Body of an American”), there’s no way of creating a tidy record. Still, And All the Pieces Matter’s collage of sounds aptly reflects the show’s divergent storylines.

On the hip-hop side, songs such as Tyree Colion’s hard-hitting “Projects” are very much a straightforward reflection of Baltimore’s everyday urban strife. Inclusions from non-Maryland natives such as Masta Ace and Stricklin’s “Unfriendly Game” are no less relevant. But it’s the not-so-traditional hip-hop that really stands out here. Michael Franti and Spearhead’s “Oh My God” mixes unabashed poetics with a stirring blues/soul beat for an unforgettable composition. And while you’ve probably never heard of Domaje, this group of Baltimore teens crafted the surprising R&B take on the theme song of The Wire: Tom Waits’ “Way Down in the Hole.” While not polished by any means, the group expertly captures both the despair and triumph of Waits’ words with heavy soul.

By the time this compilation concludes with Blake Leyh’s haunting instrumental, “The Fall,” which serves as the soundtrack to The Wire‘s credits, you’re left with no short of great music – even if you may not remember when some of these songs ever appeared on the show.

— Max Herman

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