It has been nearly 13 years since the release of the Grammy-winning, critically acclaimed O’Brother Where Art Thou original soundtrack produced by T-Bone Burnett. It was a soundtrack which had the unique ability of matching flawlessly with the Coen brother’s distinctive take on Homer’s The Odyssey set in 1930’s Mississippi, as well as being a standout folk album all on its own. This is why the soundtrack for the next Coen brothers’ film, also produced by Burnett, is gaining more attention than your average film soundtrack.
While O’Brother featured live music as one of its many, many subplots, Inside Llewyn Davis is a movie which revolves around its titular characters journey as a struggling folk singer in early 60’s New York City. This means that the soundtrack will naturally be as important as any of the main characters to the overall picture. It must have been a no brainer for Joel and Ethan Coen to immediately look to Burnett as the obvious choice to produce and arrange the many folk songs featured in the film.
Movie soundtracks have always interested me personally as I believe the difference between and really good movie and a truly great movie can sometimes be its music. Soundtracks can have a way to affect scenes or sequences that actors and plot just can’t. Elliot Smith’s work on "Good Will Hunting", or Eddie Vedder’s "Into the Wild" come to mind, or of course Simon and Garfunkel’s movie-shaping soundtrack to "The Graduate". What was unique about O’Brother’s was the fact that there was not really one artist who stood out but worked more as an ensemble of unknown folk singers who came together to make something altogether unexpected. What makes Inside Llewyn Davis so good is its ability to combine the idea of a singular artist with a group of songwriters.
Oscar Isaac was the one chosen by the Coens as the lead in the movie. This means that he must not be able to carry the plot of the movie but also much of the soundtrack. Prior to landing the role, Isaac has toiled around Hollywood as a relative unknown, his biggest roles being small parts in 2011’s "Drive" and Ridley Scott’s "Robin Hood" interpretation. I have yet to see the movie but as to the soundtrack I don’t believe they could have found a better man to voice the character. Isaac shines on the album as someone who should surely take his music career as seriously as his acting.
As I’ve mentioned, many of the O’Brother soundtracks contributors are relative unknown singer-songwriters. Perhaps it’s because of the success of that album that this time they were able to bring in much more established names. One of the songs that is a standout on the album is the traditional folk song “Fare Thee Well (Dink’s Song)” featuring Marcus Mumford alongside Isaac, who voices go together with ease. Another song that features a famous face, namely Justin Timberlake who plays the part of Jim Berkey in the film, is the tongue-in-cheek novelty song that is performed in the movie called, “Please Mr. Kennedy”.
The movie has its share of original songs but I believe that it is its new takes on traditional folk songs that are its strength. It is a soundtrack that has songs that just can’t help but get lodged in your head and one that makes me very excited to see the movie it is based around.