'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' The Soundtrack - Various Artists 
The record that launched a thousand careers.
This compilation, soundtrack to what I personally think is the most perfect film ever made (but let's put that aside for now because that's another list no one will agree with), collected the finest crafters of folk and bluegrass the world has to offer, and in return for their rewarding viewers and listeners with unbelievably good music, rewarded these masters of their art with recognition not before known or appreciated.
Sorry, that was a sentence more unnecessarily long than Nelson Mandela's. Heigh-o!
Legends such as Alison Krauss (God, I love her voice), Gillian Welch and even Emmylou Harris do feature, it's true, but it was wonderful to see some appreciation for producer T-Bone Burnett, Dan Tyminski and, yes, Ralph Stanley. On his 75th birthday, he sang O Death - a capella - at the 44th Grammy Awards. I'm sorry, but I just find that unbelievable. In retrospect, it's a miracle Kanye West didn't turn up promising to let them finish but first adding by gum, Bob Dylan was robbed.
Yes, Dylan lost out to the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack for Album of the Year. I imagine he was very happy about it, actually. Fellow losing nominees OutKast and U2 (hah!) were probably less thrilled.
The award, and Stanley's, were just two of five Grammies won by the record - and deservedly, fully deservedly.
Anyone who knows the Coen brothers' films know they care deeply about their soundtracks, and each song fits its moment in the film perfectly, but it works so well in its own right too. To hear modern legends recreate classic bluegrass songs and make them their own is no less than incredible in effect.
Highlights? Ooh, not easy. The Soggy Bottom Boys' acoustic and full band recordings of Man Of Constant Sorrow both go down as classic versions of the song, and rightfully so, thanks to Tyminski's artful arrangement and damn fine singing.
The aforementioned O Death is another fantastic song, crooned with such fragility by Ralph Stanley it's like hearing his soul be ripped apart with his ageing body. But, y'know, more cheerful. Stanley also turns up on album and film closer Angel Band, which is just bloody lovely.
What else? Down To The River To Pray and Didn't Leave Nobody But The Baby are much-admir'd thanks to Alison Krauss' involvement, and they are both beautiful renditions, but credit must also go to Chris Thomas King for his heartbreaking version of Hard Time Killing Floor Blues.
John Hartford is responsible for two gorgeous string-laden instrumentals, there's a brilliant rare 1920s recording in Harry McClintock's Big Rock Candy Mountain (corking song) and actor Tim Blake Nelson has a more than decent stab at In The Jailhouse Now. Give that man a recording contract.
To be honest, there's only one recording on this 19-track album I would call any less than wonderful, and that's because it's excruciating - three pre-teen girls murdering In The Highways. Still, they're young. I'll forgive them.
What an album. What bluegrass. What gospel. What brilliance.
So I suppose the final question is: does this count? I wasn't going to include the album on my list because I wasn't sure if a soundtrack created by various artists should be included on an albums of the decade list. But then I took away the rules and thought about it simply: it's one of the best records of the decade. Simple as that.
How nice. My 100th post on this silly little blog, set up well over a year ago, and I get to celebrate my favourite film as well as one of my favourite albums.
Tomorrow, I'll probably pick the Being John Malkovich soundtrack (does it have one?) just so I can drone on endlessly about the film.
2 years ago