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4.7 out of 5 stars173
4.7 out of 5 stars
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The music here, like the film it provides the soundtrack for, is presumably intended to take us back to the thirties. Several songs from that era are featured along with traditional material that would have been popular then. Recorded mainly with state-of-the-art technology (except for some old recordings that are included and re-mastered), the sound quality is far superior to anything available in the thirties. Several different types of music can be found here - blues, gospel, country and folk - mainly performed by contemporary artists with a deep respect for tradition. I'll just pick out some of them although there are many excellent songs here.

Even Alison Krauss sticks firmly with tradition here - she often brings contemporary influences into her music these days but not here. Alison can be heard here on Down to the river to pray (as a solo singer), I'll fly away (providing harmony vocals for lead singer Gillian Welch) and Didn't leave nobody but the baby (joining Gillian and Emmylou in three-part harmony).

The inclusion of two Carter Stanley songs on a soundtrack such as this is predictable but welcome, with the Whites performing a superb version of the oft-recorded Keep on the sunny side, while the Peasall children (Hannah singing lead with Sarah and Leah providing harmony vocals) are in great form on In the highways. Children's recordings rarely impress me but this track does.

One song here that surprised me (though perhaps it shouldn't have) is Big rock candy mountain. It can be found on plenty of albums of children's songs, when it is invariably presented as an up-tempo song that children can (if they wish) sing along to. Here we get the original 1928 recording by Harry McLintock, who sings it at a more measured, reflective pace, showing that there is more to this song than I originally thought. I still prefer it as an up-tempo song generally but I'm glad I heard this version. I wonder what the Peasall sisters would have done with this song.

The Coen brothers clearly hoped that this soundtrack would provide a resurgence of interest in traditional music. While this soundtrack was a big commercial success, it seems that the majority of people who bought it (and continue to buy it) regard it as something of a novelty. Nashville record labels signed some traditional singers (Elizabeth Cook, though not featured here, is one that comes to mind) but they didn't get enough airplay on American country radio, so such artists were dropped and Nashville returned to its contemporary format. I'm sure that this soundtrack helped to win some new fans for traditional music, but not as many as the Coen brothers would like.
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on 29 April 2001
The Soggy Bottom Boys, Allison Krauss, Emmylou Harris, Ralph Stanley, and the others capture the true spirit and essence of the traditional music that I grew up listening to. The sweet harmonies and just down right good pickin' make this CD a classic. I listen to it every day while I'm on the computer. Too bad my local station won't play any of the songs on the air! The full version, with complete instrumentation, of "I am a Man of Constant Sorrow" is the best tradional song that I've ever heard. Combined with the great performances of George Clooney, John Turturro, and Tim Blake Nelson in the movie, this CD is so well suited to the script and is uplifting, even the serious tunes:"I Am Weary" and "O Death." I purchased an extra CD just in case something were to happen to my original.
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on 4 November 2003
Performed by some of today's best singers, this multi-Grammy Award winner is a marvelous addition to any country/folk music collection. Some of these artists are at the top of their field, but some will be "discoveries" for most of us, like the beautiful rendition of "Hard Time Killing Floor Blues" by Chris Thomas King, a versatile young man who is versed in many styles, and here sings in the old blues tradition and does it brilliantly.
The highlights for me are: The legendary Ralph Stanley, with his plaintive acappella chant of "O Death", which carries with it all the pain and soul of Appalachia, and the purity of "I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow" by the Soggy Bottom Boys, who consist of Union Station member Dan Tyminsky on lead vocals and guitar, backed by Harley Allen and Pat Enright. For anyone who likes traditional music, you can't get any better than this.
Another acappella gem is "Didn't Leave Nobody but the Baby", with Emmylou Harris, Alison Krauss, and Gillian Welch harmonizing like an angels from another era. Everything on this disc recalls days gone by; there is a refreshing simplicity, and a lot of the songs are filled with faith.
There is exquisite musicianship on this CD, and it is a nice long one at 60'34 minutes. The booklet insert is something I appreciate too; it is a collage of yellowed stained paper on peeling walls, with a terrific layout, and as it says on one of its pages, "Old-Time Music Is Very Much Alive".
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on 26 September 2000
This is the best use of music in a a film since 'Rushmore'. I have seen the film twice: the second time was simply to listen to the music again. There are so many different types of Southern music here is difficult to characterise it in a few words. It ranges from blue-grass and country, to spirituals (both white and black). If you loved Michelle Shocked's 'Arkansas Traveller' then this is a record for you.
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on 17 September 2000
If you've seen the film then you'll know the songs on this album are wonderfully atmospheric and, at times, very moving. "I am a Man of Constant Sorrow" alone is good enough to warrant buying this album (cheap!) but there's also the sirens' "I am weary" and the breathtaking "Down In The River To Pray". I don't usually like soundtracks at all, the energy often seems to go out of them once the accompanying images are no longer there, but this one is very much an exception. I'd buy it now if I were you, before it gets trendy and over-familiar.
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on 19 September 2000
"O Brother Where Art Thou" makes brilliant use of period music (Depression-era Americana) to punctuate and intensify its story. A rarity, however, the soundtrack is perfectly able to stand on its own as a compilation of songs with a genuinely historic feel which can sooth the soul (Down In the River) or rouse the spirit (I Am a Man). I would recommend it to anyone--but especially to those who can appreciate good bluegrass & gospel.
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on 9 December 2000
I very much enjoyed the film but MAN is that fine music. Go to the film if only to hear it. If you have ANY inclination to gospel, country, folk, or any good voice-driven music, you should appreciate this.
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on 29 October 2001
This soundtrack is one of the best i've heard in a long long time, especially 'I am a man of constant sorrow', which makes me smile every time I hear it. Everyone should have at least one listen to this CD, because after one listen, you want to hear it again and again. Does great things for country and blues.
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on 6 June 2002
Let me make one thing clear. "O Brother..." is one of my favourite films of all time. Not only that, but the musical soundtrack is one of its strongest features and stands as a valuable cultural document in its own right. In short, this is an album that anyone who loves country, bluegrass or folk music is likely to want in their collection.
So why, as I write, am I tossing up whether to only give it four stars? The answer is that I'm attempting to review it, not as a collector's item or a socio-historical document but as an album of music for repeated listening in the comfort of your own home. For that reason I'm not going to review the film rather than the album, as some reviewers here have done, because I don't assume that every listener is going to have the movie playing back in their heads as they listen to the music.
Rather, my comments are based on how this album will sound to someone who has picked up on the hearsay, or watched the Grammy ceremony, and is tempted to go out and buy this as a musical compilation. And in that setting, many listeners are going to be disappointed. The fact that a song has integrity, emotion, historical importance or great musicianship doesn't automatically make it great entertainment.
There are some standout contributions: The title song is long-term loveable (although why four different renditions of the tune are needed on the album is a mystery - a couple of the "period" instrumental versions which work well on the movoe soundtrack are somewhat less successful as pure listening music. Alison Krauss and Gillian Welch are as usual faultless. Ralph and the other Stanleys are devastating. But how many times will you want to listen to the 4+ minutes of prison chant that opens the album? Or the squeaky kiddy song (the Peasalls)? Or the ancient ditties like "Big Rock Candy Mountain"? After a couple of spins, you may find yourself reaching for the skip button more than is comfortable.
I'm not really knocking this record - in a sense it's a masterpiece. And it's rightly selling by the millions. But if you haven't seen the film I'd give it a whirl in the listening booth before you part with your cash.
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on 1 October 2000
I'll reiterate what's been said here already. I've seen the film twice, and was singing along during both. I'll buy the video when it becomes available. Excellent production, good choice of material and well-performed. Whether your a bluegrass/gospel freak like me or a complete novice, this soundtrack is going to turn you on and some...don't wait, get it!
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