True Detective Season 3 Theme Is Seminal Blues Ballad "death Letter"
Tonight marks the return of True Detective, the third season of which harkens back to the groundbreaking and massively popular first season of the HBO crime anthology series. Once again written by Nic Pizzolatto, the brooding crime series follows Arkansas police detective Wayne Hays (Mahershala Ali) as he investigates the abduction of two children in the Ozarks in 1980—and later, in 1980 and 2015, when the case comes back to haunt him.
While the new season matches the tones of the first season, it also opens with a stark and moody theme song: "Death Letter," recorded by Cassandra Wilson in 1995 for her album, New Moon Daughter.
Originally recorded in 1965 by famed Delta blues musician Son House, "Death Letter" tells the tale of a man who learns of the death of the woman he loves from a letter he receives in the mail and later must grapple with his grief as she's laid to rest. Wilson's recording flips the gender of the song's protagonist, but it's no less affecting—and sets the tone for the dark mystery series much like the first season's theme song, "Far From Any Road" by The Handsome Family.
In an interview with Esquire.com, acclaimed music producer T. Bone Burnett promises that Wilson's music will be featured throughout the new season of True Detective. "We're starting and ending the season with deep, deep classic American vernacular," Burnett said of True Detective Season Three, the setting of which returns to the American heartland. That makes this blues standard sung by an accomplished vocal interpreter—whom Burnett calls "maybe the greatest singer living right now in the United States"—so fitting.
"Death Letter" has been performed by numerous artists throughout the years, and one standout cover of the song appears on The White Stripes' 2000 sophomore album, De Stijl.