Down from the Mountain
If you love the O Brother, Where Art Thou?
soundtrack, D.A. Pennebaker, Chris Hegedus, and Nick Doob's exhilarating concert film Down from the Mountain
will be sheer heaven. And if you're new to bluegrass and "old-time mountain-style" music, the performances will be a revelation. John Hartford, Emmylou Harris, Alison Krauss, Gillian Welch, the Cox family, the venerable Ralph Stanley, and other traditional and alt-country artists who contributed the music to the Coen brothers' spaced odyssey gathered onstage in May 2000 at Nashville's Ryman Auditorium to benefit the Country Music Hall of Fame. Interviews and rehearsal footage set the stage for this stupendous concert, highlights of which include "(Didn't Leave) Nobody but the Baby" by the sirens Harris, Welch, and Krauss; the Coxes' "(Will There Be) Any Stars in My Crown"; and Stanley's haunting "O Death." As one performer recommends, "Just ease in, sit down, and listen." It could be your salvation. --Donald Liebenson
Buena Vista Social Club
In 1996, composer, producer, and guitar legend Ry Cooder entered Egrem Studios in Havana with the forgotten greats of Cuban music, many of them in their 60s and 70s, some of them long since retired. The resulting album, Buena Vista Social Club, became a Grammy-winning international bestseller. When Cooder returned to Havana in 1998 to record a solo album by 72-year-old vocalist Ibrahim Ferrer, filmmaker Wim Wenders was on hand to document the occasion. Wenders splits the film between portraits of the performers, who tell their stories directly to the camera as they wander the streets and neighborhoods of Havana, and a celebration of the music heard in performance scenes in the studio, in their first concert in Amsterdam, and in their second and final concert at Carnegie Hall. The songs are too often cut short in this fashion, but Buena Vista Social Club is not a concert film. Wenders weaves the artist biographies with a glimpse of modern Cuba remembering its past, capturing a lost culture in music that is suddenly, unexpectedly revived for audiences in Havana and around the world. It's a loving portrait of a master class in Cuban music, with a vital cast of aging performers whose energy and passion belie their years. --Sean Axmaker