Exploring Soundtracks: O’ Brother Where Art Thou?


Today in Exploring Soundtracks, we’ll be looking at another gem of a film from the Coen Brothers. The film was written, directed, and produced by the Coen Brothers, and stars George Clooney, John Turturro, Tim Blake Nelson, and John Goodman.

“O’ Brother, Where Art Thou” is set in Mississippi during the Depression. The film’s story is a modern satire based loosely on Homer’s epic, “The Odyssey”, while also incorporating mythology from the American South. The story follows Ulysses Everett McGill (Clooney), Pete Hogwallop (Turturro), and Delmar O’Donnell (Nelson). The three escape a chain gang to pursue a supposed treasure Everett buried before the area is flooded to make a lake.

The soundtrack was produced by T Bone Burnett, an American record producer, singer, and songwriter. His work on the “O’ Brother, Where Art Thou” soundtrack earned him a Grammy award in 2002 for Album of the Year. In 2001, the album spent 20 weeks on the Billboard Top Country Chart. It also won Album of the Year at the Academy of Country Music Awards, as well as two International Bluegrass Music Award.

Perhaps the most popular songs found on the “O’ Brother, Where Art Thou” soundtrack, “I Am A Man Of Constant Sorrow” won a Grammy for Best Country Collaboration in 2002.

Man of Constant Sorrow

In the film, the song is played by the three escaped convicts shortly after they meet Tommy Johnson, a young man who claimed he sold his soul to the devil in exchange for the ability to play the guitar. In need of money, the four stop at a radio broadcast tower, where they record this song as The Soggy Bottom Boys. They don’t realize it at the time, but the song becomes a smash hit.

Towards the end of the film, The Soggy Bottom Boys reunite in disguise at a campaign dinner gala. This performance ends up winning over the crowd, receiving a pardon form the mayor, and saving the lives of the three outlaws. In the film, the actors are shown singing, but are really lip-syncing. The real music comes from Dan Tyminski from Krauss’ Union Station (guitar, lead vocals), Harley Allen, and Pat Enright.

While this version of the song may be the one most are familiar with, it isn’t the original. “I Am a Man Of Constant Sorrow” is a traditional American folk song, first published by Dick Burnett in 1913 under the name, “Farewell Song”. In 1928, it was first recorded by Emry Arthur, and given its current title.

Many artists have covered different versions of the song throughout the years. The Stanley Brothers popularized it in the 1950’s, and Bob Dylan played his own version in the 60’s. Other variations include “Girl of Constant Sorrow” by Joan Baez, “Maid of Constant Sorrow” by Judy Collins, and “Sorrow” by Peter, Paul and Mary.

With all the history behind “I Am a Man Of Constant Sorrow”, it’s little wonder why this is one of the most notable songs from the “O’ Brother, Where Art Thou?” soundtrack.

Other Standout Tracks

While “I Am a Man Of Constant Sorrow” is the big hit of this album, it isn’t the only one. Alison Krauss contributes her voice to “Down to the River to Pray”, “I’ll Fly Away”, and “Didn’t Leave Nobody but the Baby”. Chris Thomas King’s version of “Hard Time Killing Floor Blues” by Skip James is sublime. And The Soggy Bottom Boys’ version of “In the Jailhouse Now” by Blind Blake and Jimmy Rogers showcases Tim Blake Nelson’s own yodeling.

There are also a few vintage tracks that made it to the album. Most notable of these is Harry McClintock’s “Big Rock Candy Mountain” from 1928. But why look at only the standouts when you can see the whole thing?

Full Track List

  1. “Po’ Lazarus” – James Carter and The Prisoners.
  2. “Big Rock Candy Mountain” – Henry McClintock.
  3. “You Are My Sunshine” – Norman Blake.
  4. “Down to the River to Pray” – Alison Krauss.
  5. “I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow” – The Soggy Bottom Boys.
  6. “Hard Time Killing Floor Blues” – Chris Thomas King.
  7. “I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow (instrumental)” – Norman Blake.
  8. “Keep On the Sunny Side” – The Whites.
  9. “I’ll Fly Away” – Alison Krauss, Gillian Welch.
  10. “Didn’t Leave Nobody but the Baby” – Emmylou Harris, Alison Krauss, Gilian Welch.
  11. “In the Highways” – The Peasall Sisters.
  12. “I Am Weary (Let Me Rest)” – The Cox Family.
  13. “I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow (instrumental)” – John Hartford.
  14. “O Death” – Ralph Stanley.
  15. “In The Jailhouse Now” – The Soggy Bottom Boys.
  16. “I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow” – The Soggy Bottom Boys.
  17. “Indian War Whoop (instrumental)” – John Hartford.
  18. “Lonesome Valley” – The Fairfield Four.
  19. “Angel Band” – The Stanley Brothers.


You can pick up the “O’ Brother, Where Art Thou” soundtrack at the LemonWire store here.



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