Country Throwback: ‘O Brother, Where Art Thou’ Soundtrack Turns 20 Today

by Emily Morgan
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We may be in “constant sorrow” as the coronavirus continues, but at least we can still listen to the soundtrack to “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” In late 2000, O Brother, Where Art Thou? put bluegrass, blues, and country music at the forefront of the world when they released The Coen Brothers comedy-drama film. 

If you haven’t seen the film, run (don’t walk) to the TV and watch it. You can thank us later. 

The satirical period-piece follows three chain-gang escapees as they go on the run amid the Great Depression. Besides phenomenal acting from George Clooney, Tim Blake Nelson, and John Turturro, its success may partially be due to its soundtrack. 

The films include music from artists such as Alison Krauss, Ralph Stanley, and many others. The director’s use of music is also highly intentional: every song perfectly coincides with its accompanying scene. 

 O Brother, Where Art Thou?: Putting Country Music Back on the Map

You can’t help but sing along when the “Soggy Bottom Boys” sing their famous tune, “I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow.” While you hear the actors singing, the melody and lyricism are borrowed from country artists such as Alison Krauss and Union Station member Dan Tyminski, Nashville Bluegrass Band member Pat Enright, and songwriter Harley Allen.

The popularity of “I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow” went beyond the movie theater. The song was featured on the Top 40 on the “Billboard Hot Country Songs” chart. It also won three awards including, “Best Country Collaboration With Vocals” at the Grammys, “Song of the Year” at the International Bluegrass Music Association Awards, and “Single of the Year” at the CMA Awards. 

Besides that track, the entire catalog of songs from the soundtrack is a hit: it’s received a platinum certification eight times. Legendary music producer T-Bone Burnett earned a Grammy for his work on the soundtrack. Female folk-country artists Gillian Welch and Allison Kraus took home the award for “Gospel Recorded Performance of the Year” at the IBMA Awards for their work on “I’ll Fly Away.”

Twenty years later, the film still lives up to its hype. The plot, acting, and music make it a movie we can’t help but watch if it’s on. It helped make country, blues, and bluegrass music cool again, and we’re grateful for that. 

More importantly, the message still rings true in 2020: “keep on the sunny side of life,” even when it’s difficult. 

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