New Music Tuesday: Inside Llewyn Davis Soundtrack

Few things are as gratifying as finding a collection of music that you can listen to all the way through multiple times. The more you listen to it, the more the album becomes like a close friend, something– nay, somebody– familiar and comfortable.

Such is the case with the collection of songs found on Inside Lleywn Davis, the soundtrack for the upcoming Coen Brothers film. The film takes place in the early 1960s New York City folk music scene and revolves around the eponymous character, played by Oscar Isaac and loosely based on the life of Dave Van Ronk.

The film has already received positive press in preparation for its December 20 release due in equal parts to the reputation of its veteran directors (known for No Country For Old Men and O Brother, Where Art Thou?, among others), the strength of its ensemble cast (Carey Mulligan, Justin Timberlake, and John Goodman among others), and the anticipation of a singular sonic experience with the likes of T. Bone Burnett and Marcus Mumford as Executive and Associate Music Directors respectively.

The soundtrack, for its part, delivers on those expectations, setting the tone of the period perfectly. As a whole it definitely sounds like the early 60s we remember: plain and simple songwriting spread over equally plain and simple chord progressions. Upon closer inspection, the more complex, even ominous sounds– whispers of changes to come are heard. And it doesn’t take long as the record opens with Isaac’s cover of the traditional “Hang Me, Oh Hang Me,” which is decidedly not as radio-friendly as the wistful yet brighter Paxton tune “The Last Thing On My Mind.”

From corny to complex, and then just plain bizarre (check out the cover of “Please Mr. Kennedy”), the album gives each piece its due.

The album includes its own ensemble of well respected names, among them Mumford, Justin Timberlake, and Chris Thile. Isaac, a rather unknown quotient in the wider music world before this year, holds his own beautifully.  (Thile’s captaining of an a capella rendition of “The Auld Triangle” is magnificent. The harmonies are electrifying.)

When the Coen Brothers and T. Bone Burnett last joined forces to put together a movie soundtrack, the resulting album went platinum eight times over, and they single handedly initiated  a bluegrass / americana resurgence in the United States (see: O Brother, Where Art Thou?). Whether or not right now is a fine time for a similar folk / traditional renaissance is left to be seen, but what is certain is that with a set list like that of this soundtrack, no doubt there’s enough poignant material out there for additional releases.

Rating: A
Listen Now: “Hang Me, Oh Hang Me,” “The Auld Triangle,” “Five Hundred Miles”

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