Artist: Various Artists

Title: The Hunger Games: Songs from District 12 and Beyond

Label: Universal Republic

Disturbing as The Hunger Games premise may be—two dozen kids in a post-apocalyptic former North America are forced into a televised to-the-death battle in which only one of them will survive—this largely folk-based collection of exclusive new songs created in association with the film based on Suzanne Collins' best-selling novel is quite engaging and impressive.

T Bone Burnett, who won a Grammy for putting together the O Brother, Where Art Thou soundtrack, turns a similar trick here, this time with a deft mix of superstar acts (Taylor Swift, Maroon 5, Miranda Lambert) and compelling new faces (The Civil Wars, 15-year-old British female singer Birdy).

Among the sixteen tracks, only a handful of them blatantly represent the story's darker elements. With an eerily ethereal melody and marching-into-war drums, Arcade Fire's "Abraham's Daughter" opens the proceedings. Hip hop's Kid Cudi drones his way through "The Ruler and the Killer," a sinister piece that sounds a little out of place but isn't immaterial to the plot.

Irish actor and musician Glen Hansard (Once, The Swell Season) unexpectedly screams out "Take the Heartland," while The Decemberists keep the early up-tempo R.E.M. style alive in "One Engine."

Beyond those, the album is far mellower, more cohesive and engaging, taking its musical inspiration from the book and film's so-called District 12 region once known as Appalachia. Rising traditional country duo The Secret Sisters offers hope and serenity in the hushed harmonies of "Tomorrow Will Be Kinder." New old-time string band The Carolina Chocolate Drops goes almost a cappella on the gripping "Daughter's Lament," a true moment of mountain music.

Taylor Swift and The Civil Wars offer an award-worthy collaboration with the hauntingly sparse lullaby "Safe & Sound." Both artists get their own spotlight cuts as well; Swift's "Eyes Open" is an especially pop driven fan pleaser. Miranda Lambert, singing with her side act Pistol Annies, also gives her people what they want in the pure country twang of "Run Daddy Run."

Most surprising is "Come Away to the Water," Maroon 5's alluring chill-out duet with recent discovery Rozzi Crane that is, mercifully, light years from such band earworms as "Moves like Jagger."

Take note this well done multi-artist collection is not the original motion picture soundtrack for The Hunger Games—that score is a separate release composed by James Newton Howard. Crazed as the brand's following has become, there's plenty of room for both.

*This Review First Published 3/27/2012