Soundtracking is a regular column that appears on Cineplex.com looking at the music featured in the biggest new releases both in theatre and on home video. Shane McNeil looks at T Bone Burnett and the Coen Brothers bringing folk full circle with Inside Llewyn Davis.
If you didn’t know any better, you might think the Coen brothers’ latest offering Inside Llewyn Davis (opening in limite release on Friday before expanding in January) was aptly timed to cash in on a renewed interest in folk and bluegrass music.
With bands like Mumford & Sons and The Lumineers dominating the charts in recent years, the timing for a movie like Llewyn – a look at the successes and struggles of the forgotten artists in the 1960s Greenwich Village folk scene – is certainly ideal.
The music of Llewyn Davis leans on some of these existing pillars, with Marcus Mumford himself contributing to the soundtrack’s lead single “Fare Thee Well (Dink’s Song)” alongside Oscar Isaac, who portrays the eponymous lead character.
T-Bone Burnett (whom you might remember from The Hunger Games soundtrack) returns to collaborate with the Coens, once again serving as producer on the soundtrack in his fourth collaboration with the pair.
Burnett and the Coens struck pay-dirt on their last collaboration together: O Brother Where Art Thou? The 2000 depression-era re-imagining of “The Odyssey” was steeped in folk, roots and bluegrass music with established country acts like Emmylou Harris, Alison Krauss and others rearranging country classics and traditionals in true ‘30s style.
The reaction to that soundtrack, though, was unprecedented. The album sold upwards of seven million copies in the U.S. and winning a Grammy Award for Album of the Year. It became just the second compilation soundtrack to win the award and the first since Saturday Night Fever. What’s even more impressive is that it accomplished both feats without a ubiquitous hit. The fictitious Soggy Bottom Boys got some decent country radio air-time with “I Am A Man of Constant Sorrow,” but that song would hardly rank alongside the likes of “Stayin’ Alive” in terms of reach.
The bluegrass build has been slow and steady ever since, highlighted by the emergence of acts like Mumford and The Avett Brothers but also by established acts: most notably Robert Plant’s “Raising Sand” collaboration with Krauss that would win Album of the Year at the 2009 Grammys.
So where does that leave the Llewyn soundtrack? Well, it’s sort of its own beast.
It reaches for folk, but folk in the early Bob Dylan sense (or, more accurately, Dave Van Ronk for you detail-sticklers) and is buoyed greatly by Isaac’s aptitude behind the mic. There’s the aforementioned Mumford jam as well as collaborations with the severely under-appreciated Punch Brothers as well as vocal chip-ins from Justin Timberlake and Carey Mulligan (singing again!), but will it provide the kind of cross-over success that O Brother enjoyed?
While the film’s box office success remains to be seen, there’s already a push for the soundtrack to make a splash with an entire documentary devoted to the music that served as inspiration and was inspired by the film. That doc (produced by Burnett), Another Day/Another Time premiered on Showtime in the U.S. on Friday and features live concert footage from Jack White, Patti Smith and Joan Baez in addition to the aforementioned soundtrack standouts and more. Get ready to get inside the music of Inside Llewyn Davis with the trailer below!