Sunday, August 7, 2011

One Of Those Odd Occasions Where Quality Doesn't Land It: The O Brother, Where Art Thou? Soundtrack!

The Good: Good, Eclectic mix of older songs, Quite listenable
The Bad: A bit dependent on the film
The Basics: A wonderful soundtrack that I'd never recommend if I didn't love O Brother, Where Art Thou? or if I thought people in my life would enjoy this type of music.

Occasionally, there's a film that uses a soundtrack wonderfully; it fits the film perfectly and it's used to enhance the film it's in. The soundtrack to O Brother, Where Art Thou? (reviewed here!) is a perfect example of a wonderful soundtrack for the film it's in. The music perfectly enhances the film, creating an air of backwoods Mississippi in the Depression.

The thing is, the soundtrack is not the film, the c.d. I'm rating is being rated separate from the film. And the truth is, the soundtrack is pretty wonderful in its own right. And therein lies some of the problem. Bear with me a moment. In reviewing this album, I ran into a bit of a conundrum. The music on the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack is classic country, bluegrass, spiritual, gospel, and folk. I suppose it could all be lumped into quite old classic country.

The point I'm attempting to make is that the music is all sorts of music I don't usually listen to. Most of it is music that I'd never listen to if it came on the radio; it's not my taste.

And yet, I enjoyed this soundtrack, this particular collection. The conclusion I drew - upon several listens - is that the reason I enjoyed the soundtrack to O Brother, Where Art Thou? was because I enjoyed the film so much. I hear "In the Jailhouse Now" and I picture John Turturro's lanky, humorous dancing and I smile. I hear "Didn't Leave Nobody But the Baby" and I envision the Sirens in the film and that's always an image that pleases me.

So the problem is, it's difficult to separate the film from the soundtrack in this instance. And so, to purely rate the compact disc I am even now listening to, as a work of its own is difficult. It's a nice mix. The vocals are wonderful, from the slow, sad vocals of "Po Lazarus" and "Lonesome Valley" to the hick country beats of "Big Rock Candy Mountain" to the recurring variations of "I Am A Man of Constant Sorrow" (it appears thrice on the album), the sound is varied, yet cohesive. That is, it's easy to listen to because the tracks have different styles, yet create a distinctive, old-tyme mood.

And that works well. However, a perfect example of a track that suffers when taken out of context is "Down to the River To Pray." It's a classic gospel sound, lots of references to god and religion and these are things which - outside the context of the film - I'd never listen to.

The tracks that have musical accompaniment are competent at the very least. Some of the tracks are a cappella, but most make use of simple instruments like the banjo. The harmonies on this album are well executed.

But the truth is, without having seen the film, I'd never enjoy this c.d. Moreover, I'd never recommend it to a friend because only one person in my life truly likes music this far from what we usually listen to. I think people who truly enjoy the film O Brother, Where Art Thou? will love the soundtrack as an attempt to continually recapture the joy the film brought to them and to those people, I would certainly recommend it. But as a general recommendation, I'd say, no, I don't think I'd recommend this; I know I would not have enjoyed the music - despite it's vocal quality and musical diversity - had I not seen the film. And the sad truth is, most people who aren't into expanding their horizons, even for a single album, would turn this disc off after the second track. I'm glad I saw the film, else I know I would have, too.

Moreover, those with listening sensibilities from after the 1950s will likely become bored by this album. Why? The evolutions of jazz, folk and country have gone in a completely different direction from its origins and this soundtrack is heavy on the themes and sound of early bluegrass and country. As a result, this music is not even familiar as, country or folk and while it might be nice for an occasional diversion, it will not continually hold the captivation of the listener. And without the film to back it up, the soundtrack is just a random sampling of a lot of very old music.

The best track is the hauntingly beautiful "Didn't Leave Nobody But the Baby." The weakest track is "Indian War Whoop."

For other soundtracks, check out my reviews of:
The Red Violin Soundtrack
The Heights Soundtrack
The Last Of The Mohicans Soundtrack


For other music reviews, please check out my index page on the subject by clicking here!

© 2011, 2003 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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