Saturday, June 11, 2011

Bless the Banjo

I suppose I feel in a varietal mood these days.  With a prior post about storm clouds, I move on to... BANJOS!  Read on for why I care about banjos (p.s. I also care about pedal steels).  Frank Fairfield is a phenomenal current player with a very old-timey sound:

Ed Helms, star of The Office and The Hangover is also a banjo fanatic.  Confession: I listened to the O, Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack for years before actually seeing the film.  Alison Krauss became an idol and I learned all of the real verses to "You Are My Sunshine."  Really quite a sad song.  It also began a lifelong love for real down-home bluegrass.  You ask, Where am I going with this? 

Anyone who may have read THIS POST might have some insight into my love for the film, True Grit.  Directed by the Cohen Brothers, the soundtrack by Carter Burwell is a different take on a theme similar to O, Brother Where Art Thou (to my delight).  Burwell built orchestral variations on traditional American spirituals, making them very much his own.  Hear some songs and hear Burwell talk about the process HERE.  It also meant the listening to the original arrangements gave me a few more songs to sing while playing along with the four chords I can actually play on the guitar.

Anyways, the reason I felt the need to talk to you about this is that the movie came out on DVD/Streaming/BlueRay what have you and the second time around was just as good as the first.  I still love the music.  Carter Burwell was snubbed by the Oscars because the score was not built around original compositions.  What he does with the music, however, is innovative and beautiful and I believe takes the melodies to both literal and much more abstract places.  To further prove this point, while nosing around youtube, I came upon some videos that caught my ear.

Here is the film version of one of the songs, "Talk About Suffering":

Here is Doc Watson's version (and a few other songs); "Talk About Suffering" starts around 3:20:

And another beautiful version, with some instrumental accompaniment:

Beyond composing the orchestral accompaniments, Burwell frequently arranged minor variations on melodies in the major scale and vice versa.  Basically, the movie is great, the soundtrack is beautiful, and I am grateful to expand my Americana, traditional, spiritual musical vocabulary.  Another major base to the score, I very much recommend a listen to "Leaning on the Everlasting Arms."

I hope you now love banjos just a little bit more.  Bisous.

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