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O brother, what will the future bring?

Country Standard Time Editorial, June 2002

Whether the music was your cup of tea or not, there certainly can be no disputing the incredible, unforeseen success of the "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" soundtrack.

Despite being released almost 1 1/2 years ago (December 2000), the sales keep piling up - about 5 million by now - with loads of acclaim, a host of Grammys and one very successful tour of musicians associated with the soundtrack finished and another on the way in June.

What is not clear is what lies ahead for music following this slew of positive events.

A clear beneficiary of "O Brother" is bluegrass music. Many musicians and labels indicate they have done quite well in drawing people to concerts and buying the music, which they attribute directly to "O Brother."

The country side is less clear. Radio may not have dropped the ball since the response to the soundtrack fell pretty much on deaf ears at radio. Most of the major country stations just did not respond to the public. Somehow, something seems wrong when an album is racking up the Grammys and reaching the public with blockbuster sales numbers, and then country radio won't play it to any large extent.

Unfortunately, radio isn't very likely to go out on the edge when it's far easier to play it safe and play music that doesn't sound so out of the ordinary that listeners are ready to hit the button, a death sentence for a radio station.

Edgier country acts like Emmylou Harris and Gillian Welch were on the soundtrack. And their chances of getting a spin on country radio these days is about nil.

But now it's up to the record labels to see if they can come up with something else a little different that reaches a vibe with the public. Who knows if it will be a new act or another soundtrack?

But with strong sales, press and awards, maybe just maybe the airwaves can play the music, heralding a new day for country music, which like so many other genres could use a huge shot in the arm after slumping for a protracted period of time.