"One of the reasons the Coen brothers have attained their lofty auteur status is
their ability to transport us to far-flung places, into the midst of unexpected
situations, and still find a universal humanity.
I haven’t yet had the privilege of viewing O Brother Where Art Thou?, but the
first few tracks of the soundtrack were enough to have me drooling for the opportunity.
Perhaps the American deep south at the height of the Depression is not the time and place
you’d choose to live your life. But it’s fascinating for a vicarious visit.
This CD alone is enough to take us there. As you’d expect, it’s full of songs
that by pop-chart standards are as corny as a wheat field; I can’t see any of these
bluegrass guitar and fiddle ditties, trad spirituals, and country folk and gospel
recordings causing Britney Spears to quake in her chunky designer shoes.
The music here is rootsy and nostalgic, performed with oodles of integrity and
absolutely no production gloss. It is a vintage compilation of bluegrass stalwarts and
fresh talents like Alison Krauss, who contributes collaborations with Gillian Welch and
Emmylou Harris, as well as the stunning a cappella country gospel of Down In The River To
It’s not the only a cappella delight here, however, with Ralph Stanley’s
unaccompanied rendition of O Death being the simplest, yet most haunting of recordings;
and the Fairfield Four lowering the pitch to Paul Robeson territory with Lonesome Valley.
You can almost taste the salt of the earth, and hear the roll of Old Man River in the
Although it has its pensive and poignant moments, the disc is replete, of course, with
twangy guitars and banjos, sprightly fiddles and catchy choruses. Often all together.
This is a soundtrack of warts and all recordings, clear and detailed in their capturing
of performance, but entirely lack in the sheen, style and sophistication of contemporary
pop production. Of course they’re far richer in raw, honest emotion. Take your