When is a movie soundtrack not a soundtrack? When it's a ''companion piece.'' That's how Shawshank Redemption star Tim Robbins describes the album that will follow the year-end release of his latest directing effort, Dead Man Walking, a taut drama about a death-row inmate and a nun starring Sean Penn and Susan Sarandon.
But what a companion piece it is. Due in early January from Columbia Records, the title track is being penned and performed by Robbins' pal Bruce Springsteen. In addition, the album will feature Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder (performing two duets with Pakistani recording artist Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan), as well as Johnny Cash, Steve Earle, Mary-Chapin Carpenter, Suzanne Vega, Patti Smith, Michelle Shocked, and Tom Waits, all of whom contributed original material.
What makes the record so unusual, says Robbins, is that only a few of the songs on it will end up in the final cut of the movie. Those that won't, he says, were ''inspired'' by the script and can be heard only on the companion album. ''I sent a rough cut of the film last summer to several songwriters I admire and asked if they felt inspired to write something,'' says Robbins. ''Almost everyone I talked to did.''
And what about the legal headaches of bringing together various artists from various labels? Oddly, it's been almost a snap. ''In this particular project it's gone really well,'' says Maureen Crowe, vice president of soundtracks at Columbia Records. ''Tim's direct involvement was very important it became an intimate relationship between everyone, and the various labels, publishers, and attorneys made it happen.'' Attesting to the album's uniqueness, Crowe adds that many of the performers have asked if the songs could be used on their own future albums. ''We have no problem with that,'' she says. ''I've never worked on anything in which the artists felt so attached.''