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Has it really been 10 years since O Brother, Where Art Thou? was released?

Based loosely on Homer’s Odyssey, the Coen Brothers’ film, set in rural Mississippi during the Great Depression and starring George Clooney, became something of a cult hit.

The soundtrack, however, took on a life of its own and became a multi-platinum selling album, itself spawning a stage concert Down from the Mountain, which was subsequently turned into a movie and GRAMMY-winning album before taking to the road for a sell-out US tour. I bet Joel and Ethan didn’t expect all that when they came up with the original idea for the movie! This album was responsible for introducing millions of people around the world to old-time bluegrass and country music, and its effects are still being felt to this day.

To celebrate the 10th anniversary the surprise smash hit soundtrack album has been re-released with a second disc containing 14 extra tracks, 12 of which were recorded at the time but never made it into the movie or onto the soundtrack. Award-winning producer T-Bone Burnett was responsible for picking the tracks for the extra disc, choosing from the wealth of songs recorded in the original sessions for the movie and soundtrack.

It’s clear from the track listing that some songs were recorded by a number of different artists, leaving the producers to decide which to use in the film and which to ditch. This second disc is an opportunity to hear some of those tracks that didn’t make the cut. So we have Alan O’Bryant’s version of You Are My Sunshine, Van Dyke Park’s piano-only Big Rock Candy Mountain, I’ll Fly Away by The Kossoy Sisters with Erik Darling, The Cox Family singing Keep On The Sunny Side, In The Highways by The Cox Family, Norman Blake’s version of Big Rock Candy Mountain, and In The Jailhouse Now by Harley Allen, a song famously performed in the movie by The Soggy Bottom Boys.

Mixed between these alternate versions of tracks from the original soundtrack are songs that didn’t appear on the soundtrack or in the movie. Tishamingo Blues, an instrumental track by John Hartford featuring just fiddle and banjo, the wonderful unaccompanied chain gang-style Tom Devil, by Ed Lewis & prisoners (!), Norman Blake with a song Little Sadie, and the a-capella four-part harmony of The Fairfield Four singing the gospel song The Lord Will Make A Way.

The quality of performances on the new disc quickly dispels any thoughts that it might just be full of rejects, and none of them would have been out of place in the movie. The fact that some were picked over others can only be down to artistic reasons – with the producers choosing those they felt fitted better. Given those tough decisions were made over 10 years ago, I’m glad that we finally get to hear the fine alternatives.

The 10th Anniversary Deluxe Edition is available to buy from Amazon as a physical CD and and a digital download.

(c) Graham Hollland 2011

1 Comment to “O Brother, Where Art The Tracks That Didn’t Make The Movie?”

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