Home Read Classic Album Reviews: Various Artists | Down From the Mountain + Songcatcher

Classic Album Reviews: Various Artists | Down From the Mountain + Songcatcher

O Brother's influential Appalachian soundtrack spawns a pair of musical sequels.


This came out in 2001 – or at least that’s when I got it. Here’s what I said about it back then (with some minor editing):


O Brother, Where Art Thou? did better at CD stores than at the multiplex. The Depression-era comedy from the Coen brothers wasn’t a box office blockbuster — but its magnificent soundtrack of bluegrass and Appalachian Americana was definitely a hit. So no wonder it’s spawning sequels.

First up is Down From the Mountain, a live recording of the music and artists from O Brother taped in Nashville last year. Kicking off with The Fairfield Four’s field holler Po’ Lazarus, the star-studded lineup (Alison Krauss, Gillian Welch, Emmylou Harris, John Hartford and others) put on a giant jamboree, delivering mesmerizing renditions of tunes old (Hartford’s Big Rock Candy Mountain, Harris’s I’ll Fly Away) and new (Welch’s oddly melancholy I Want to Sing That Rock and Roll). One quibble: No Ralph Stanley. Other than that, this is a sequel that lives up to the original. Second on the mountain-music double-bill: The soundtrack to Songcatcher, a new period drama about a backwoods musicologist. Its 16-song soundtrack has an equally impressive roster (Rosanne Cash, Iris Dement, Dolly Parton, Harris and Welch again, Patty Loveless, Julie Miller, Deana Carter, and many more) and an equally impressive set list (mostly sombre, traditional ballads like Wayfarin’ Stranger and Conversation With Death, augmented by the occasional new original). The difference? No menfolk here. Call it O Sister, Here Art Thou.