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And the Winner is… O Brother Where Art Thou, 2000

OBro Perform

Congratulations to all who voted for O Brother, Where Art Thou, making it OnRecords’ most favourite soundtrack ever!

Probably my favourite fun fact about this winning soundtrack is that its recording actually began before filming the motion picture.  This probably helps explain my decision to place it in the “Musicals” category, even though it was one of the few that haven’t been turned into a Broadway show (it’ll probably happen eventually though, right?).

So much more than a great soundtrack, O Brother has become like a curator, introducing many to early American folk music.  I wouldn’t be surprised if the film is credited with the rise in popularity of folk instruments in the past 15 years, as well as successful bands like Mumford & Sons, The Lumineers and The Avett Brothers.  But I digress.

When we press play on this album, it begins with a loud crackling noise – the sound of a log being chopped – which becomes the downbeat for “Po’ Lazarus”, the work-song recorded by Mississippi prisoners in 1959.  This track accompanies one of the coolest stories behind this album: former inmate James Carter (who is credited as the lead vocal on the song) was presented with a cheque for $20,000 and when the soundtrack was nominated for a few Grammys, he attended the award ceremony in 2002, one year before his death.

The next track, Harry McClintock’s “Big Rock Candy Mountain”, is the only other compiled and pre-recorded song on the album.  Since its recording in 1928 this song has been covered by many and even cleaned up for children a few times. But luckily we get the uncensored hobo’s paradise, complete with “lakes of Whiskey” and “cigarette trees”.  It really sets the tone, for the rest of this old-timey soundtrack..

The rest of the tracks are a collection of traditional folk tunes brilliantly chosen by T Bone Burnett and re-recorded by a variety of country, bluegrass, and blues musicians.  First up is Norman Blake’s rendition of the classic “You Are My Sunshine”, beginning with the saddest verse to temper the mostly light and sweet melody.

“Down to the River to Pray” is the first of a few to feature the crystal clear, angelic voice of Alison Krauss.  It also happens to accompany one of my favourite moments in the film, when Delmar gets himself baptized:

Next up is the radio version of the plot-central track, “I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow”, which will show up a few more times before the album is done.  This particular version (with lead vocals by Union Station’s own Dan Tyminski) is stripped down to vocals and acoustic guitar, reflecting how the recorded it in the film.  The country music is broken up a bit with “Hard Time Killing Floor Blues” by ever-smooth bluesman Chris Thomas King before launching back into “I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow”, this time as an instrumental acoustic guitar solo.

After the perky “Keep on the Sunny Side”, Alison Krauss returns, first with one other female bluegrass legend, and then with two: Gillian Welch joins her on the theologically-problematic but emotion-lifting funeral favourite, “I’ll Fly Away”, before Emmylou Harris joins both women to complete the country vocal trifecta on the dirge-like lullaby, “Didn’t Leave Nobody but the Baby”.

Cutesy and chipmunk-y, “In The Highways”, is followed by what is possibly my favourite track on the album, from the Cox Family, “I Am Weary (Let Me Rest)”.  Then, another instrumental of “Man of Constant Sorrow”, this time on violin, sets us up for Ralph Stanley’s haunting a cappella rendition of “O Death”.

The fictional singing group of the film, The Soggy Bottom Boys, return for an encore, and give us “In The Jailhouse Now,” as well as a full band version of our favourite theme song, which has an official music video that acts a bit like a film trailer/summary.  Good luck not watching the movie after this.

The album closes out with two traditional folk tunes, first an a cappella and bass-heavy “Lonesome Valley”, and second, the Stanley Brothers’ old-time-country, mandolin accompanied “Angel Band”.  There doesn’t seem to be a great way to finish off this throwback to old school American music, so the soundtrack ends there, not with a memorable moment from the film, but with a simple gospel folk tune about preparing for one’s death.

I think O Brother is such a clear favourite because it is not only a great collection of nostalgic tracks or a memorable keepsake from a great film, but because of the way the music transports us to a different time and place, covers a lifetime of emotional highs and lows, and if we’re lucky, we return to our own world with a new perspective.  With or without the visuals of the movie.

…But if you haven’t yet, you should probably still see the movie.

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Soundtrack Madness: The Final Poll

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Purple RainO Brother, WAT?

From 64 soundtracks to just two critically acclaimed masterpieces.  Prince’s collection of new material for Purple Rain set a new precedent for soundtracks featuring an artist or band.  It was a top seed because it has been recognized time and time again as not only an excellent soundtrack, but a solid album by a straight-up pop/rock music royalty.  Still, this was no easy journey.  In order to arrive here, Purple Rain had to earn your votes against a New Jack City compilation, The Beatles, Aimee Mann, and finally, the great and beloved Whitney Houston.  Most recently it won in an epic battle against surprise upsetter, Catch Me If You Can.  

Prince’s contender is O Brother, Where Art Thoua more recent soundtrack that has been recognized for the way it brought old-timey country into the mainstream and reminded the world exactly why Alison Krauss is the most Grammy-winning female of all time.  It competed with the musical soundtracks, having to go up against nostalgic family-favourites such Frozen, Grease, Wizard of Oz, and finally The Sound of Music.  In the Final 4, the fight was with the 90’s classic, Romeo + Juliet, but O Brother was still able to prevail, with more votes than any poll in the Soundtrack Madness brackets.

The choice is yours.  I’d love to hear the reasoning behind your vote as well, so feel free to say your piece in the comments.   I’ll give a play-by-play listen/blog of the champion soundtrack, so check back next week for the winner.  I’ll keep this poll open until Sunday, April 19th.  May the best album win!

 

Soundtrack Madness Final Four

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Our brackets are down to the Final 4, with only one surviving soundtrack from each quadrant left to battle into the final round.  Without any further ado, let’s take a look at the contenders…

Purple RainCatchMeThe top seed of the Featured-Artist Albums, Purple Rain, is likely no surprise to most soundtrack fans.  But it did see its fair share of close calls – especially with The Bodyguard which Prince beat narrowly with just one vote.  Catch Me If You Can on the other hand, was seeded in the last and 16th spot, and has consistently beaten more popular and better reviewed albums.  I actually had these two in my Final Four predictions, but then changed them when I just couldn’t fathom that Catch Me would get this far, so I am pretty excited to see this match up! Once again, the choice is yours…

Romeo_+_Juliet_Soundtrack_Vol._1O Brother, WAT?Though the tracks on these records are different, these two soundtracks take a similar approach of using their music to build the world in which these classic literature adaptations exist:  Romeo + Juliet juxtaposes a world of guns and cell phones with a Shakespearian script, adding even more of a sense of familiar chaos with 90’s pop/rock, while O Brother, Where Art Thou paints Homer’s Odyssey in Mississippi during the Great Depression using the soulful blues and country of that period.  I do find it interesting that one of the least musical-like albums won the Musicals bracket, but I think this will give us a far fairer fight here and now.  Now, do what you will.

The Final Four polls will be open until midnight (EST) of Wednesday, April 15th – so vote and share quickly, and check back soon after that for our final championship!

Soundtrack Madness: The Elite Eight

OSTMadnessE8   You are about decide what one soundtrack will represent each quadrant of the bracket and head into the semifinals!  Eight teams are left, leaving four big decisions.  I don’t know about you, but the Musicals really ruined my predictions.  So let’s start with them this time.

Sound Of MusicO Brother, WAT?

On its way here, The Sound of Music has taken out two of my favourite soundtrack albums of all time, West Side Story and Moulin Rouge.  Each round has given it a more intense competition, but ultimately failed to break its momentum.  O Brother, Where Art Thouthough not strictly a musical, has enough of its music woven into the story that it finds itself among beloved stage-to-film remakes, and has crushed such favourites as Grease and Wizard of Oz.  With track records like that, this is any album’s poll.

CatchMeMissionThis is certainly the bracket that I’ve been most pleasantly surprised by.  According to the critics, both of these albums are big underdogs, though both John Williams and Ennio Morricone are the cream of the film score crop.  Catch Me If You Can is far from being Williams’ most popular work, but it is perhaps more removed from strong associations that might take away from the melodies.  The Mission has experienced a wider audience, especially with the theme, “Gabriel’s Oboe”, which is possibly one of the most beautiful things ever written for a double reed instrument.  It’s difficult for me to not see this as a saxophone vs. oboe competition, but I refuse.  Vote based on the album as a whole, not the instrumentation alone.

Purple RainBodyguard..

I have found this quadrant one of the easiest to predict until The Bodyguard demolished The Graduate, with a vote of 10-3.  The power of a deceased diva is not to be underestimated.  However, there is a reason (or several) that Purple Rain has the top seed, and that should also not be underestimated.  Either way, I think fans of both these records will make this an epic battle.

PrettyInPinkRomeo_+_Juliet_Soundtrack_Vol._1Each a classic from their respective decades, both of these albums have had to fight to be here.  Pretty in Pink has beaten two classic 60’s soundtracks (The Big Chill and Stand By Me) to be here, and then in the Sweet 16, took out the top seeded Trainspotting.  Romeo + Juliet has had nothing but close calls, squeaking by Garden StateJuice, and the number 2 seed, Pulp Fiction, blocking Tarantino from having a soundtrack in the Elite 8, never mind the Final 4.

Polls will be open until Friday, April 10th PM, with the Final 4 showdown to take place over the weekend.  It’ll go by fast, so make sure you come back to voice your opinion!

Soundtrack Madness: Sweet Sixteen

 Only 16 soundtracks left, and this will be our fastest round yet, with polls only remaining open until the end of Easter Monday, April 6th, so be sure to get your friends (with similar taste) to vote quickly, and check back early next week for the Elite 8!  As always, please remember to vote for the soundtrack album, as opposed to the film of the same name.  Now, let’s see those updated brackets and get to it!

OSTSweet16

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Artist Featured Soundtracks

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Purple RainMagnoliaThe truth is that I never would have guessed that Magnolia would beat out both Superfly and Shaft to be here.  With this kind of track record, it’s about to offer some legitimate competition to Purple Rain, which barely boxed-out The Beatles’ Help! to get this far.  At this point either one could deserve to go to elite 8, but you’ll still have to choose between them.

GraduateBodyguardThese soundtracks represent more than just their music or even films, but iconic moments in pop music history.  The Graduate had no problem offing Shaft, which had only one vote backing it.  The Bodyguard came out on top a much closer race with Saturday Night Fever to now face off against the popular Simon & Garfunkel collection.  I have to say, I am enjoying how much this match-up sounds like it’s between two actual people.

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Compilations

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TrainspottingPrettyInPinkNeither of these albums had much difficulty beating out Natural Born Killers or The Big Chill respectively.  In general, this particular quad of the brackets got a few more voters than some of the others, so it seems some of you might feel strongly about some of these compilations… How do you feel about Trainspotting and Pretty in Pink?

Romeo_+_Juliet_Soundtrack_Vol._1Pulp FictionTwo dark and eclectic soundtracks are filling out this category and about to get violent.  Romeo + Juliet’s music is stylized without a particular genre of modern 90’s music, while the last Quentin Tarantino soundtrack, Pulp Fiction is woven together with a mix of surf rock and 60’s soul tunes.

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Musicals

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Sound Of MusicMoulin RougeThese are two very different albums with massive followings.  Rogers and Hammerstein’s Sound of Music has already beat out the top seeded musical, West Side Story, to make it this far.   2001’s Moulin Rouge has had fewer years to work its way into our hearts, but quickens the nostalgic value using beloved pop music from the 70’s and 80’s.

WizardofOzO BrotherHere is where I will admit that although I have so much love for O Brother, I am feeling a little bitter that it took out my personal favourite, Grease, in the last round.  Meanwhile, Wizard of Oz is a longtime favourite for many, but in all fairness, really hasn’t had a strong competitor until now.  May the best soundtrack win!

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Instrumentals

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CatchMeBladeRunnerAfter beating Star WarsBlade Runner has a another chance to take out a second John Williams’ score in Catch Me If You Can, which is the only remaining 16th seed in Soundtrack Madness!  These are two surprisingly strong contenders, and I’m quite sure this could go either way.

Mission220px-Chariots-of-fire-albumThe Mission and Chariots of Fire have both been powerful underdogs in this competition, and now face off to make for a very hard decision since these soundtracks appeal to very similar audiences.  I suspect this one will be an especially close race.

Thanks for voting, and remember to check back Tuesday, April 7th for results and Elite 8 polls!