A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this music.
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.
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?