A decade on, the Coen brothers' woefully underrated O Brother, Where Art Thou? [alt] is remembered for a lot of things: its sun-drenched, sepia-rich cinematography (a pioneer of digital color grading), its whimsical humor, fluid vernacular, and many subtle references to Homer's Odyssey. But one part of its legacy truly stands out: the music. Assembled by T-Bone Burnett, the soundtrack is a cornucopia of American folk music, exhibiting everything from cheery ballads and angelic hymns to wistful blues and chain-gang anthems. Woven into the plot of the film through radio and live performances, the songs lent the story a heartfelt, homespun feel that echoed its cultural heritage, a paean and uchronia of the Old South. Though the multiplatinum album was recently reissued, the movie's medley is best heard via famed documentarian D. A. Pennebaker's Down from the Mountain, an extraordinary yet intimate concert film focused on a night of live music by the soundtrack's stars (among them Gillian Welch, Emmylou Harris, Chris Thomas King, bluegrass legend Dr. Ralph Stanley) and wryly hosted by John Hartford, an accomplished fiddler, riverboat captain, and raconteur whose struggle with terminal cancer made this his last major performance. The film is free in its entirety on Hulu and YouTube -- click inside for individual clips, song links, and breakdowns of the set list's fascinating history. [more inside]
Say, you wanna hear a sad song? Eddie Hinton was a guitar player, vocalist, and songwriter from Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Co-writer of one of the tenderest, sexiest hits of the late 60s, Dusty Springfield's Breakfast in Bed, Hinton was a key member of the world-famous Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section from 1967 to 1971 (turning down an invitation from Duane Allman to be a member of the Allman Brothers Band) who worked as a studio musician on albums by Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Percy Sledge, the Staples Singers, and Toots Hibbert, but his early success was sidetracked by mental problems, booze, and drugs. [more inside]
Made most popular to many Americans as the closing song for the Grand Ole Opry programs, Will The Circle Be Unbroken was written in 1907 by Ada Habershon, an intensely religious young woman and acquaintance of Dwight Moody and Ira David Sankey. The music was "composed" by Charles Gabriel, a popular songwriter and composer of the era who is often solely credited with the song, but while he may have put the notes down on paper, the tune itself already existed as the African-American spiritual Glory Glory / Since I Laid My Burden Down. [lots more inside]
So You Think You Hate Country Music? Then listen to this. The roots of American country music may surprise you. In this series of NPR programs, trace the gradual development of real country music through the first half of the 20th century. Learn how a woman's instrument of the late 1800s, the parlor guitar, became the the central symbol of country and rock; see how African-American musical forms like gospel and blues meshed with the development of country and early rock and influenced the traditional forms in turn; listen to German-Mexican hybrids of accordian style; find out why women had so many honky-tonk torch songs to sing in the late 40s. The series contains hours of content (narrative, interviews, music tracks), and a multitude of excellent links for deeper digging.