Wednesday, September 21, 2011


I just picked up a copy of the deluxe reissue of the O Brother, Where Art Thou soundtrack.  It's well worth the money, especially if you didn't get it the first time.

It's the rare soundtrack that stands apart from the film, even though the film is an absolute classic.  I'd liken it to Saturday Night Fever in that it really introduced a genre of music to the general public.  SNF introduced disco, and O Brother kind of re-introduced bluegrass and mountain music to America and the world.  Both movies were huge (I barely remember SNF, but O Brother is one of my favorite films ever, I enjoy it more every time I see it) but still the soundtracks stand as their own creations.

I'd also argue that O Brother introduced some great talent to larger audiences, namely Gillian Welch.  Alison Krauss was doing quite well before the film, but I think a lot of people discovered her through the album. And without a doubt, Ralph Stanley really benefitted from the exposure he got from his haunting version of "O Death." And as producer T-Bone Burnett says in the liner notes, people who didn't have houses were now able to afford houses.  That's an amazing thing.  Another great story in the liner notes is about James Carter, who leads a group of convicts in a field recording of "Po' Lazarus," from 1959, which is used at the beginning of the film. After the soundtrack went to #1, he was tracked down: out of jail for decades, he didn't remember recording that song, but now he gets performance royalty checks from one of the best selling soundtracks of all time. "So a movie about these prisoners on a prison work farm down South recording a song and having it become a hit song unbeknownst to them, started off with a song recorded by a prisoner on a prison work farm which became a bit hit unbeknownst to him."

This is all the context of the film and the soundtrack.  But how is the expanded reissue?  Well, it adds some songs from the film that didn't make the original version, as well as a couple of songs that weren't used in the film. Many are different versions of songs from the film: "Hard Time Killing Floor Blues" (by Colin Linden, in addition to Chris Thomas King's from the original soundtrack), "I'll Fly Away" (by The Kossoy Sisters with Erik Darling, complimenting the Krauss/Welch version), and another haunting field recording, Ed Lewis and other prisoners singing "Tom Devil," recorded by Alan Lomax the same day he recorded "Po' Lazarus."

I'm not sure the album necessarily needed an expanded edition, but I found the other versions of the songs a welcome addition to an album that I've listened to many times.

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