Paul Westerberg's legendary status in rock 'n' roll history is more than secure. As leader of Minneapolis post-punk/pre-grunge icons The Replacements, Westerberg was the creative force behind one of the -- if not the -- most influential rock bands of the 1980s, creating a template that would later be adapted by such diverse rockers as Nirvana and Ryan Adams, among numerous others. And since 1991, he's maintained a solo career that would make most of his peers green with envy, if critically-acclaimed albums and fan respect still have anything to do with the equation.

Open Season; Featuring The Songs Of Paul Westerberg marks a new direction and career path for this brilliant singer-songwriter, spotlighting his music from the soundtrack of Sony Pictures Animation's first feature-length animated film. The Columbia Pictures release features the voices of such stars as Martin Lawrence, Ashton Kutcher, Debra Messing and Gary Sinise, among others -- and tells the tale of a domesticated grizzly bear who befriends a deer, helping him and other wild animals escape a hunter in the forest just as hunting season begins.

Of course, knowing all this detail may better help your understanding and enjoyment of these songs. But the amazing thing about Open Season: Featuring The Songs Of Paul Westerberg is that it works just as well as a terrific new Paul Westerberg album as it does a wonderful soundtrack. The songs are full of his trademark hooks and melodies as well as his ever-clever wordplay. It isn't Westerberg's first soundtrack work; he contributed several tracks -- including the theme song -- to Singles, Cameron Crowe's 1992 saga about the Seattle rock and dating scene. But Open Season is certainly his most ambitious soundtrack to date.

"Singles took about two weeks, while Cameron Crowe sat there and sorta encouraged me along," Westerberg remembers. "That's about how long the whole Singles thing took. This project took two-and-a-half years."

When discussing how the project came to be, Westerberg is his regular irreverent, self-deprecating self. "After my last arrest, I had to do two-and-a-half years of community service," he laughs. "No. It was by accident. Once again. As fate would have it. My music was being pitched to various studios at the time. The very last one we went to was Sony. I played a few of my songs and was told: 'We've got this bear movie coming up. Do you wanna do a bear movie?' And I said, 'Sure, I can do that.'" He flew back to Minneapolis the next day, immediately composed the song "Right to Arm Bears," recorded it in his home studio, and sent it back to Sony's music supervisor in less than 24 hours. "And so before I knew it, I was writing songs for an animated film!"

Westerberg also ended up scoring the movie with film score veteran, Ramin Djawadi. The process and the tunes came even faster after he was able to view a cut of the film, sans music. "Some of the songs, I wrote specifically for the characters, molding them and remolding them," he explains. "And then some things I just had sorta lying around and I changed the lyrics to fit what we were doing.

"Actually, in all seriousness, it was a good marriage for me to be writing for a film that was scheduled to come out in the fall. I had no trouble coming up with a lot of autumn imagery. So I got into that aspect of it."

In addition to the songs he rewrote to fit the animated animals, Westerberg also revived "Good Day," a beautiful track from his 1996 solo LP, Eventually, for the film's soundtrack. "That song really helped get the ball rolling after they heard 'Right to Arm Bears' and realized that this guy has a sense of humor -- and he works fast and cheap," he chuckles. "The music supervisor put it on a tape of my stuff for the various executives to hear and everyone thought that particular song was great. So I thought, 'Why not? Why not use it?'"

Open Season is also unique in that it features two Westerberg originals covered by other modern rock artists -- "Wild As I Wanna Be" by San Franciscan Cake offshoot, Deathray (who also contribute their own "I Wanna Lose Control" to the album) and Pete Yorn's recording of the haunting "I Belong (reprise)."

Of course, this venture into child-influenced music shouldn't come as a huge surprise to longtime Westerberg fans. For one thing, he's been a proud Dad himself for a few years now. "I think it influenced me to take the gig, in many ways, more than it influenced the actual music," he admits, "because Johnny is not a fan of my ballads. So the one or two songs they're probably going to be pushing from this album are not the songs he's gonna dig. He likes my rock 'n' roll stuff."

And then there's just the plain and simple fact that there was often a childlike quality to some of the Replacements' and Westerberg's greatest material, be it "Waitress in the Sky" or "I Will Dare." The man who wrote those songs agrees. "'Mr. Rabbit' was definitely one. And some of the dumber rock 'n' roll songs. By dumber, I mean as in 'good.' Just because it's simpler and dumber doesn't mean it's not good.

The latter could be a description of what was often the Replacements' aesthetic in a nutshell. And with that in mind, many Westerberg fans will be most excited to hear that two of the new Westerberg originals -- "Love You In the Fall" and "Right to Arm Bears" -- are sort of a continuation of the much-ballyhooed recent Replacements reunion that resulted in two new tracks for a Best of the Replacements album released earlier this year. Chris Mars didn't contribute this time -- but Tommy Stinson, Westerberg's brother-in-arms, plays bass on the two songs. If one listens closely, you can even hear his vocals on "Love You in the Fall."

All the tracks were started and demoed in Westerberg's basement home studio, but the two-and-a-half year adventure would eventually take the composer to New Hampshire (for the earliest recordings), to Los Angeles (for a majority of the scoring process), and then finally back to Minneapolis.

"I ended up recording about five or six tunes just a couple of blocks away from here at [blues producer and songwriter] Kevin Bowe's home studio," he says. "Kevin was also the guitarist who toured with me last year -- so we put that band briefly back together. Jim Bouquist on bass and [drummer] Michael Bland came over one afternoon to cut those tracks. And in about an hour, it was done.

"So you get a little bit of everything on this one -- the old band feel but we've also got the new buddy feel. And the best part is it all sounds like it came out of the same garage."

Something old. Something new. Something terrific. Who could ask for more?

Listen to a few of the songs from the Open Season soundtrack Here.