This soundtrack deservedly won the Grammy for Album Of The Year in 2002 and the Producer of the Year award for T-Bone Burnett. Burnett has long been known for his impeccable sound. His new recordings of today's virtuosos (Alison Krauss, Gillian Welch) and yesterday's masters (Ralph Stanley, John Hartford) playing old-time country and bluegrass brought America's music to the ears and heart of over 5 million listeners. We think there is something unnatural about listening to this special music on little silver discs and this new, 2-LP pressing from Universal Music sounds more natural and "right." Although it has not been pressed on heavy, audiophile vinyl, our copy is flat and very quiet. Vinyl is absolutely the best way to go with this timeless music.
Before any other consideration, it is worth observing that this collection, assembled for a film, stands up very well as a contemporary listening experience. Through 19 tracks, largely produced by T-Bone Burnett, the set explores the most traditional of song forms, from the basic rhythms of the work song "Po Lazarus," captured years ago in a field recording by Alan Lomax, to the jaunty new reading, by actor Tim Blake Nelson, of Jimmie Rodgers' "In the Jailhouse Now," with accompaniment by members of the Nashville Bluegrass Band and Alison Krauss' Union Station.
But a performance by Emmylou Harris, Krauss, and Gillian Welch of "Didn't Leave Nobody but the Baby" and two instrumental renditions of "I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow" -- by Norman Blake on guitar and by John Hartford on fiddle -- almost sound contemporary in their haunting plaintiveness. The latter song is something of a cornerstone for the set; it appears four times in all and is echoed in theme by other selections, including the Cox Family's beautiful recording of "I Am Weary (Let Me Rest)," "I'll Fly Away" by Krauss and Welch, and "Lonesome Valley" by the Fairfield Four.
Directors Joel and Ethan Coen have great faith in the primal appeal of this Southern-bred fare, whether it be the mountain sound of Ralph Stanley, heard in a new, a cappella recording of "O Death" and in an old Stanley Brothers recording of the traditional hymn "Angel Band," or in the delta blues, recreated by Chris Thomas King with his rendition of the Skip James classic, "Hard Time Killing Floor Blues."
Set in Depression-era Mississippi, O Brother, Where Art Thou? follows the flight of an escaped convict, trying to get home. So Hartford's offering of the exotic fiddle tune "Indian War Whoop," first recorded by Hoyt Ming & His Pep Steppers, has an especially authentic feel. But questions of authenticity don't relate here. Taken together, this music evokes a mood of deep soulfulness. It creates a musical home for the wayward pilgrim. - Jay Orr, country.com
James Carter & the Prisoners
The Soggy Bottom Boys
Chris Thomas King
Sarah, Hannah and Leah Peasall
The Cox Family
The Stanley Brothers
1. Po Lazarus - James Carter & the Prisoners
2. Big Rock Candy Mountain - Harry McClintock
3. You Are My Sunshine - Norman Blake
4. Down In The River To Pray - Alison Krauss
5. I Am A Man Of Constant Sorrow - The Soggy Bottom Boys
6. Hard Time Killing Floor Blues - Chris Thomas King
7. I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow - (Instrumental - Norman Blake)
8. Keep On The Sunny Side - The Whites
9. I'll Fly Away - Gillian Welch and Alison Krauss
10. Didn't Leave Nobody But The Baby - Gillian Welch, Alison Krauss and Emmylou Harris
11. In The Highways - Sarah, Hannah and Leah Peasall
12. I Am Weary - The Cox Family
13. I Am A Man Of Constant Sorrow (Instrumental - John Hartford)
14. O Death - Ralph Stanley
15. In The Jailhouse Now - The Soggy Bottom Boys
16. I Am A Man Of Constant Sorrow (With Band) - The Soggy Bottom Boys
17. Indian War Whoop (Instrumental - John Hartford)
18. Lonesome Valley - The Fairfield Four
19. Angel Band - The Stanley Brothers