Joel and Ethan Coen have long established themselves as film stylists without peer: from Blood Simple
, their movies have never been less than fascinating, and there has never been any question that their films could not have been made by anyone else. In T-Bone Burnett, the producer of the soundtrack for O Brother, Where Art Thou?
, they have finally met their match: Burnett's work in assembling a collection of pieces for the Depression-set film is as skilled and entrancing as the film itself.
Despite the presence of Emmylou Harris, Gillian Welch, Alison Krauss and bluegrass legend Ralph Stanley, the stars here are the songs themselves, a host of traditional songs augmented by archival recordings. The collection is also a showcase for a host of lesser known and forgotten bluegrass masters: The Cox Family, collaborators with Krauss; Norman Blake, a sideman for Bob Dylan and June Carter Cash; country gospel group The Whites, who once counted Ricky Skaggs as a member (and who, here, cover the Carter Family); and young bluesman Chris Thomas King among them. All bring life to their songs, and the results are sublime--and, at times (Krauss and a choir's take on "Down To The River to Pray", Blake's instrumental version of the oft-repeated "I Am A Man of Constant Sorrow"), downright entrancing.
Some of these songs can be found on Alan Lomax collections. If you enjoy this album, we also highly recommend the Harry Smith Anthology of American Folk Music and Woody Guthrie's Asch Recordings series. --Randy Silver