Joel and Ethan Coen, the filmmaking team behind such masterpieces as Fargo, Barton Fink and No Country For Old Men, have always had a wonderful ear for music. Their soundtracks burst with hidden gems, from the nostalgic tunes of O Brother Where Art Thou? to the eclectic, unhinged song selection that accompanied The Big Lebowski. It is no surprise then that Inside Llewyn Davis, their recent film about the Greenwich Village folk scene, boasts an incredible soundtrack. The soundtrack was so impressive, in fact, that it has since spawned a live concert, recorded and released as Another Day, Another Time: Celebrating the Music of “Inside Llewyn Davis”.
If lyrics like “So while you sit and whistle, ‘Dixie’/with your money and your power/I can hear the flowers growin’/In the rubble of the towers” gets your gag reflex going, and finger pickin’ guitar has never sounded like anything but nails down the chalkboard to you, you’re not going to get much enjoyment out of Another Day. After all, seeing the film isn’t a prerequisite for enjoying Another Day, but having a strong interest in folk music – or at the very least the willingness to embrace the genre – is. Despite boasting a number of contemporary artists (The Decemberists’ Colin Meloy, and Jack White for example) Another Day has a foot firmly planted in the past, and even the covers of modern songs are tinged with a nostalgic feel.
For those ready to take the ride, when Another Day works, it really works, and some of the performances are stellar. Will The Circle Be Unbroken deserves particular praise, as contemporary troubadours the Punch Brothers are joined by legends Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings, all doing great work. Similarly, Welch and Rawlings’ The Way it Goes duet is a starkly powerful song – both dark and compelling.
Bright Eyes’ Conor Oberst does fine work, perhaps making up for the fact that he tried and failed to secure the role of Llewyn Davis in the film. His voice has a ragged, beautiful urgency, and it’s a real pleasure to hear him put a new spin on the Monsters of Folk’s Man Named Truth, joined by Welch and Rawlings.
Keb Mo’s Tomorrow Is A Long Time is impressive, and Joan Baez’s legendary voice brings a fresh poignancy to House of The Rising Sun. But despite some stiff competition, The Avett Brothers emerge from Another Day as the record’s real stars. They steal the show, performing All My Mistakes, That’s How I Got to Memphis, and Head Full of Doubt, Road Full of Promise one after the after, sustaining a mood of beautiful melancholy.
Another Day isn’t a complete success, however, and the necessarily one-note nature of the concert does begin to drag. Some of the songs, like Lake Street Drive’s You Go Down Smooth, and the promising but ultimately underwhelming combination of Elvis Costello, Adam Driver and Inside Llewyn Davis’ star Oscar Isaac playing Please Mr. Kennedy, pass by while barely registering.
Perhaps most disappointingly, Jack White has the necessary passion, but his Mama’s Angel Child doesn’t work quite as well as it should, and his version of the White Stripe’s We’re Gonna Be Friends is a real anomaly: to say that it doesn’t fit the proceedings is an understatement.
Nonetheless, by the time it’s over Another Day’s strengths have made up for its dull spots. Its antiquated flavor might send some running, but for those left, there is enough here to warrant repeated listening. It’s a doorway into another world – a time capsule of sorts – and as a tribute to a great film, a celebration of a genre, and a testament to said genre’s lasting impact, it deserves a healthy amount of praise.