O Brother, Where Art Thou? Soundtrack

Music review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
O Brother, Where Art Thou?  Soundtrack Music Poster Image
Huge hit introduces new generations to old-time music.

Parents say

age 6+
Based on 1 review

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The parents' guide to what's in this music.

Positive Messages

Aside from the hobo fantasy of "Big Rock Candy Mountain," most of the messages in the songs reflect mainstream moral values. Criminals tend to pay the price for their misdeeds, whether bullet-blasted Po Lazarus or the hapless protagonists of "In the Jailhouse Now," who should have listened to wiser advice. There are also several gospel-tinged songs, including "In the Highways" and "Keep on the Sunny Side" with a strongly upbeat message. Ralph Stanley's "O Death" is grim and cautionary, while "I'll Fly Away," also about death, is so full of celestial harmonies it puts mortality it a far more welcoming light.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Some of the characters in the songs are up to no good, and usually getting payback, from the universe or law enforcement, as a result. Some are just struggling with life's issues or enjoying life's delights. Others, whether explicitly inspired by religious faith or just raw courage, display upbeat perseverance, longing for home and family, and appreciation for the sweetness of a loved one.

Violence & Scariness

"Po Lazarus" finds himself pursued by lawmen with orders to bring him in dead or alive, and is shot for his pains; death, sometimes welcome, sometimes terrifying, is a recurring theme in many of the songs here.

Sexy Stuff

"Didn't Leave Nobody But the Baby," delivered by a seductive trio of nymphs in the movie, is steamy in its sweetly harmonious delivery, but fairly innocuous in its lyrics: "Come lay your bones on the alabaster stones and be my ever-lovin' baby" is about as edgy as they get. The play on the ambiguity between infant "baby" and more sexualized "baby," much in evidence here, may be a little confusing for younger kids.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

The singer/author of "Big Rock Candy Mountain" dreams of an earthly paradise where everything's plentiful, including liquor and cigarettes.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that the soundtrack to O Brother, Where Art Thou?, the loony Coen Brothers take on Homer's Odyssey, was a labor of love from T Bone Burnett, who also produced the bestselling collection The Hunger Games: Songs From District 12 and Beyond. Burnett used both archival recordings and new ones to paint a musical backdrop of the Depression-era South -- and in the process turned on a new generation to the joys of old-time music. In keeping with the period and setting of the movie, there are references to the criminal lifestyle -- "Po Lazarus," in an archival recording by an actual chain gang, describes a fugitive on the run, and "Big Rock Candy Mountain" is a hobo's fantasy of free-flowing liquor, heavily laden cigarette trees, and helpless law enforcement. Several gospel songs deal with the subject of death, some in spooky fashion. "Didn't Leave Nobody But the Baby," the song associated with the "sirens" scene in the movie, is mildly steamy.

User Reviews

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Adult Written byclarence August 6, 2015

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What's the story?

To conjure up the sound of 1932 Mississippi, producer T Bone Burnett used numerous songs of the period, and chose the rest well. \"Po Lazarus\" and \"Big Rock Candy Mountain\" are historic recordings, the first by a chain gang and the second by the song's author; for the remainder, Burnett called upon his wide range of contacts in the music world to gather a remarkable collection of new recordings by veteran artists such as Ralph Stanley and the Fairfield Four and younger musicians including Alison Krauss and Gillian Welch. Still a bestseller a decade after its release, the album was an instant hit, a huge boon to the careers of many country, blues, bluegrass, and Americana artists, and for many kids, the beginning of a musical interest they would never have discovered otherwise.

Is it any good?

Surprising one and all by making a blockbuster hit from the most commercially ignored music in America, the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack album carried off two Grammy Awards in 2001: Album of the Year, and also Best Country Collaboration With Vocals to the Soggy Bottom Boys (aka Dan Tyminski, Harley Allen and Pat Enright) for "Man of Constant Sorrow" (which appears in multiple vocal and instrumental versions in the album). While not every style represented here -- blues, bluegrass, gospel, "old-time," and more -- will be to everyone's taste, the quality of the musicians and their work is outstanding. This album has served as an introduction to these artists for countless listeners, and its popularity has extended from kids to their grandparents.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about why this album, which was so different from the mainstream music of its time, was such a hit when it first came out, and why it has remained popular years after its and the movie's release.

  • Had you seen the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou? before you listened to the album? Did it make you appreciate the music more?

  • Of the different artists and songs on the album, which do you like best? Why?

  • Does listening to this music from the Depression give you a more personal understanding of what the period was like?

Music details

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