If you go back far enough, modern country, bluegrass, folk, blues and even rock 'n' roll can trace their roots to the same Southern musical tradition. Those songs that were sung in the fields, in the churches and around the dinner table laid the foundation that the likes of Woody Guthrie and Elvis Presley would later build upon. While that may sound like the thesis of a dull anthropological study, in the hands of filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen, it's a forgotten chapter of music history that is brought to vivid life.
Made as the soundtrack to their latest film, the Depression-era O Brother, Where Art Thou?, the Coens have put together a CD by an all-star roster of musicians that may ultimately overshadow the film. There are familiar new recordings of old classics like "You Are My Sunshine" and "Keep On the Sunny Side," but it's those gems that have been lost over time that make this CD so great. Alison Krauss's "Down to the River to Pray" recalls the time when gospel started to make its way out of the churchyards, and "I'll Fly Away," with Krauss and Gillian Welch, exudes that kind of sweet optimism that made early country music so charming.
But the highlight of the CD is the lost chestnut, "I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow." It's the song in the film that George Clooney's character sings, but it's really Dan Tyminski, previously of Union Station (Alison Krauss's band). Tyminski soulfully rips through this number and serves notice that he is set to break into the upper echelon of country/blues singers.