Various Artists - O Brother, Where Art Thou?
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O Brother, Where Art Thou? (Mercury Nashville, 2000)

Various Artists

Reviewed by Mark "Brink" Brinkman

"O Brother, Where Art Thou?" is Joel and Ethan Coen's loose, comedic adaptation of "The Odyssey" set in Depression-era Mississippi. This soundtrack encompasses black gospel, blues, work songs, white spirituals and Carter Family classics of the 1930's. The album, produced by T Bone Burnett, features songs in their original form such as the 1955 Stanley Brothers recording of "Angel Band" and the 1928 recording of "The Big Rock Candy Mountain" by real life hobo Harry "Mac" McClintock along with many new renditions of old classics.

The music keeps true to its roots. Norman Blake, Gillian Welch, Alison Krauss, John Hartford, Emmylou Harris and the Fairfield Four among others bring the music to life. Using vintage ribbon microphones and recording techniques employed by record companies in the '30's results in an authentic sound. Wonderful renditions of classics abound. "Keep On The Sunny Side," "I'll Fly Away" and "You Are My Sunshine" will be immediately familiar to most listeners. Ever present is the music's sheer emotion and soul. The music is much less about being technically perfect and much more about sharing feelings and gut-wrenching emotions. To wit, Ralph Stanley's a cappella performance of "O' Death," becoming the voice of death itself, then alternating horrified pleas to "spare me over 'til another year."

Several cuts - the opening "Po Lazarus" and "Lonesome Valley," performed by the Fairfield Four - cry for a film reference and would most likely assume additional meaning after viewing the movie. The centerpiece, "Man of Constant Sorrow," is performed no less than four times by different artists. The main version is performed by the fictional group The Soggy Mountain Boys with Dan Tyminski doing lead vocals.

Some touted this as a bluegrass album. It is not. What it is, is a stunning recreation of a musical era that cuts to the heart and soul of American music. As Robert K. Oermann writes in the liner notes, "The music takes us back to a time when music sprang from the heart and not the corporate boardroom. These performances are far more emotionally moving than anything that can be manufactured in our modern studio electronic wonderlands."

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