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SoundTRAX: "O Brother, Where Art Thou?"

Three convicts in prison stripes are running.
UMG
/
Buena Vista Pictures

SoundTRAX is a dive into notable music from iconic films and TV shows every Monday-Thursday at 8:10.


It was 23 years ago today that the soundtrack to the film O Brother, Where Art Thou was released and shocked many by becoming, in some ways, even more popular than the film itself.

The film already had a lot of buzz around it before it even hit theaters, considering it was a Cohen Brothers feature with an all-star cast, including Kentucky's own George Clooney as the movie's lead, plus John Turturro, Tim Blake Nelson, John Goodman, Holly Hunter, Charles Durning, and musician Chris Thomas King, who made his film debut as Tommy.

The movie is set in rural Mississippi in the 1930s but also takes inspiration from Homer's Greek poem, the Odyssey. An odd combination, but it worked.

Clooney, Turturro, and Nelson play escaped convicts on a quest to find some buried treasure before the spot is turned into a lake. There are many bizarre impediments to this search along the way, not the least of which when the trio— eventually joined by musician Tommy— stop to cut a record as the "Soggy Bottom Boys" which eventually becomes a big hit.

I think it's safe to say the movie would have not been remotely as appealing without the irresistible combination of folk, gospel, blues and country tunes.

Assembling those tunes was the task of producer extraordinaire T-Bone Burnett, and he was certainly up to the task, presenting traditional songs performed by an extraordinary team of musicians.

Ralph Stanley of The Stanley Brothers, Alison Krauss, Emmylou Harris, Gillian Welch, Norman Blake, The Whites, The Fairfield Four, the adorable Peasall Sisters performing a Maybelle Carter gem. Plus cast members Tim Blake Nelson and Chris Thomas King each contribute a number as well.

But for today's SoundTRAX selection, there can be only one.

Clooney could carry a tune but he and the filmmakers all agreed since the song becomes a hit, someone else should be brought in to dub his voice, which ended up being Dan Tyminski, longtime member of Alison Krauss and Union Station.

I distinctly remember watching the band at the Louisville Palace when they were recording their live album a few years after the film came out and Tyminski telling the crowd how he first broke the good news to his wife, explaining how when people saw Clooney singing, it was Tyminski's voice they would hear.

His wife replied: "Dan, that's my fantasy." Ditto, Mrs. Tyminski.

His version of today's song earned him a Grammy Award (along with backing vocalists Harley Allen and Pat Enright) AND it also happened to be written by another Kentuckian around 1913— Dick Burnett of Monticello.

So for today's SoundTRAX selection, it's Dan Tyminski— backed by Allen and Enright— as "The Soggy Bottom Boys" from O Brother, Where Art Thou, with "Man of Constant Sorrow."

Mel is the WFPK morning host. Email Mel at mfisher@lpm.org.