That’s where Burnett, the only producer Mellencamp’s ever had, enters the picture about five years ago. Mellencamp played him the songs and, always up for a challenge, Burnett signed on.
‘‘It’s a very interesting group of tunes he’s put together and I do believe some of his best songs,’’ Burnett said. ‘‘Time will be the judge of that but it seems so to me. They’re real powerful tunes, and real stripped down, of-the-earth type tunes. ... John and Stephen work a lot of the same turf, the legends of small-town America, that stuff. So I can see the resonance between the two of them pretty clearly.’’
Burnett brought in friends and colleagues to hang Spanish moss from tree limbs, add humidity to the air and bring the characters to life. Actors like Matthew McConaughey and Meg Ryan helped with the spoken-word parts. Crow sings from the perspective of the coveted woman at the center of the story. Kristofferson provides a moral compass. And Costello had a great time taking it fire and brimstone.
‘‘I had to be the Devil in that story so I made some very extraordinary sounds,’’ he said. ‘‘I mean I was creaking. I sounded like my teeth were about to fall out. I thought the Devil, that can’t be an ordinary voice. So I sang in harmonic shrieks and whispering and everything.’’
The thing that Mellencamp loves about the final product is you can’t pigeonhole it. All the principles will be replaced by other actors and musicians when the musical hits the road around the country later this year. The ultimate goal is to debut ‘‘Ghost Brothers’’ on Broadway, but producers have been leery of that unconventional structure. No matter.
‘‘If it ends up there, great, and if it doesn't, that’s fine too,’’ Mellencamp said. ‘‘Because the real victory in ‘Ghost Brothers’ is that very rarely do you collaborate with somebody that you walk away and go, ‘You know, I really like that guy. I really had ... fun with that guy.'’’
AP Music Writer Mesfin Fekadu in New York contributed to this report.
Follow AP Music Writer Chris Talbott: http://twitter.com/Chris_Talbott.