Masterful retelling

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Aficionados of Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music, take note. O Brother, Where Art Thou?, the sound track to the Coen Brothers’ cinematic retelling of The Odyssey as a Depression-era convict caper, provokes the same sense of musical discovery as your first time hearing those initial volumes of folk masterpieces. While Smith’s 1952 collection introduced the likes of the Carter Family and the Memphis Jug Band to those unfamiliar with the rural world of traditional folk, O Brother ventures through the Deep South’s delta blues, bluegrass and gospel, from “In the Jailhouse Now” to the traditional hymn “O Death.”

While Smith used original recordings, O Brother features contemporary artists revisiting songs of yesteryear. Produced by T-Bone Burnett with associate help from Gillian Welch and Denise Stiff, these 19 tracks form an outstanding and cohesive compilation, evoking the everyday ethos of ’30s Mississippi more successfully than a modern recording probably should. So while the sound track features some well-known names — including Welch, Emmylou Harris, Alison Krauss and Fairfield Four — O Brother is a journey that, like Smith’s Anthology, will open music lovers’ eyes and ears to songs and styles that are worth (re)discovering.

The soundtrack artists later assembled for a live performance in Nashville, which was recorded on video and reviewed in Metro Times.

Jimmy Draper writes about music for Metro Times. E-mail letters@metrotimes.com.

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