Album: O Brother, Where Art Thou?: Original Soundtrack

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Album:

O Brother, Where Art Thou?: Original Soundtrack

Artist: T-Bone Burnett, Various Artists
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Label: Lost Highway

The best soundtracks are like movies for the ears, and O Brother, Where Art Thou? joins the likes of Saturday Night Fever and The Harder They Come as cinematic pinnacles of song. The music from the Coen brothers’ Depression-era film taps into the source from which the purest strains of country, blues, bluegrass, folk, and gospel music flow. Producer T Bone Burnett enlists the voices of Alison Krauss, Gillian Welch, Emmylou Harris, Ralph Stanley, and kindred spirits for performances of traditional material, in arrangements that are either a…

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The best soundtracks are like movies for the ears, and O Brother, Where Art Thou? joins the likes of Saturday Night Fever and The Harder They Come as cinematic pinnacles of song. The music from the Coen brothers’ Depression-era film taps into the source from which the purest strains of country, blues, bluegrass, folk, and gospel music flow. Producer T Bone Burnett enlists the voices of Alison Krauss, Gillian Welch, Emmylou Harris, Ralph Stanley, and kindred spirits for performances of traditional material, in arrangements that are either a cappella or feature bare-bones accompaniment. Highlights range from the aching purity of Krauss’s “Down to the River to Pray” to the plainspoken faith of the Whites’ “Keep on the Sunny Side” to Stanley’s chillingly plaintive “O Death.” The album’s spiritual centerpiece finds Krauss, Welch, and Harris harmonizing on “Didn’t Leave Nobody but the Baby,” a gospel lullaby that sounds like a chorus of Appalachian angels. —Don McLeese

Joel and Ethan Coen have long established themselves as film stylists without peer: from Blood Simple to Fargo, their movies have never been less than fascinating, and there has never been any question that their films could not have been made by anyone else. In T-Bone Burnett, the producer of the soundtrack for O Brother, Where Art Thou?, they have finally met their match: Burnett’s work in assembling a collection of pieces for the Depression-set film is as skilled and entrancing as the film itself.

Despite the presence of Emmylou Harris, Gillian Welch, Alison Krauss and bluegrass legend Ralph Stanley, the stars here are the songs themselves, a host of traditional songs augmented by archival recordings. The collection is also a showcase for a host of lesser known and forgotten bluegrass masters: The Cox Family, collaborators with Krauss; Norman Blake, a sideman for Bob Dylan and June Carter Cash; country gospel group The Whites, who once counted Ricky Skaggs as a member (and who, here, cover the Carter Family); and young bluesman Chris Thomas King among them. All bring life to their songs, and the results are sublime—and, at times (Krauss and a choir’s take on “Down To The River to Pray”, Blake’s instrumental version of the oft-repeated “I Am A Man of Constant Sorrow”), downright entrancing.

Some of these songs can be found on Alan Lomax collections. If you enjoy this album, we also highly recommend the Harry Smith Anthology of American Folk Music and Woody Guthrie’s Asch Recordings series. —Randy Silver

Related Works

Film:O Brother, Where Art Thou?

O Brother, Where Art Thou?

Ethan Coen, Joel Coen

Only Joel and Ethan Coen, the fraternal director and producer team behind art-house hits such as The Big Lebowski and Fargo and masters of quirky and ultra-stylish genre subversion, would dare nick the plot line of Homer’s Odyssey for a comic picaresque saga about three cons on the run in 1930s Mississippi. Our wandering hero in this case is one Ulysses Everett McGill, a slick-tongued wise guy with a thing about hair pomade (George Clooney, blithely sending up his own dapper image) who talks his chain-gang buddies (Coen-movie regular John…

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