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]
Covers by Beck and bonus Beck-related stuff (Many of these will play automatically when you open them) [more inside]
"Who is this Loretta Lynn chick, anyway?". Jack White, in a skintight, red cowboy suit, seemed a little nervous when he came out to introduce his opening act. So nervous, in fact, that the White Stripes frontman offered a cautionary preface of sorts to the massive huddle of young fans at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York. "Now I want you all to be very nice to my next guest. I think she's the greatest female singer-songwriter of the 20th century,". The crowd looked around at each other, visibly puzzled. In White, Loretta Lynn has found her Rick Rubin. Finally. Much like the producer who revitalized the late Johnny Cash's career with spare, homespun recordings, White has raised the notion of Loretta Lynn as a hip, renegade country artist. The transformation is of the same magnitude as Emmylou Harris's ethereal work with Daniel Lanois in the mid-'90s. more inside
In the wake of the tornados and armageddon, perhaps some happy news is in order. The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band have released the third volume in their Will the Circle Be Unbroken series. This series which began 30 years ago and continued with Volume 2 in 1989, features the boys in the Dirt Band getting together with country legends like Johnny Cash, members of the Carter Family and Vassar Clements and inheritors like Emmylou Harris and Ricky Skaggs and doing some astonishing versions of old traditional tunes, hymns and a few originals. I'm listening to Vol. 3 right now, which features first timers like Dwight Yoakam, the lovely Iris Dement and even Tom Petty, and I'm tellin' ya, it's a worthy addition to the tradition, my freinds. Traditional music is enjoying a revival right now and that's great, but these folks have done an enormous amount to keep it alive and vital between the vogues and created some music for us in the bargain.