Folkie fix – ★★★★
Before the release of Inside Llewyn Davis, you would have been forgiven for predicting a folk music revival on par with the bluegrass resurgence that followed the popularisation of the soundtrack of O Brother, Where Art Thou. But there were no major Oscar nominations and the show’s producers even rejected the proposal to stage a “hootenanny” medley to celebrate the film, instead sticking to the traditional practice of showcasing the Best Song nominations (won by John Travolta’s favourite Idina Menzel aka “Adele Dazeem”).
All of this left a post-Oscar feeling that the soundtrack buzz, much like that of the film, had kind of just fizzled out. Well don’t fear as the producers are now releasing a concert film to celebrate some of the soundtrack contributors and the songs of the folk era. The gig took place last September at New York City’s Town Hall and preceded the film’s general release.
Inside Llewyn Davis dealt with an incredibly historic and mythologised era of names like Dave Van Ronk, The Clancy Brothers, Peter Paul & Mary and Bob Dylan. The Coen brothers did the sensible thing and brought American music supremo/maestro/historian/producer T. Bone Burnett on-board to help curate the songs, performances and soundtrack. While the soundtrack featured a mix of classics and actor-performed songs, this gig featured modern performers who have been assembled by Burnett as standard bearers for today’s folk music scene, along with a few special guests.
Names like The Avett Brothers, Marcus Mumford and Gillian Welch all make perfect sense but it’s also nice to see people like Colin Meloy and Patti Smith in there. And no showcase of old-time American music is complete without an appearance by Jack White (though I’m not sure why we’re seeing him perform a White Stripes song). Also of note is the highly impressive appearance by Oscar Isaac performing two of his Llewyn Davis numbers – no cat though.
Director Christopher Wilcha is no Jonathan Demme (Stop Making Sense, Neil Young Journeys) and so stays away from anything showy but the beautiful and simple camera work captures a rawness up close, something that is only prevalent in folk and country music. We’re treated to brilliant backstage and rehearsal room recordings as the house band work with the performers to build up the songs, working out what goes where and what works best. The jumps from rehearsal to gig to backstage is well done and it’s no doubt fascinating for any musician to see how a benefit concert of this type gets put together.
The MVP of the night is probably Gillian Welch whose rendition of “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” with Dave Rawlings competes with Marcus Mumford’s “Farewell” for most memorable and affecting performance. And whether you’re a fan of this kind of music or not you’re also bound to find something to impress you amongst the lesser known acts like The Punch Brothers and The Milkcarton Kids. Irish folks will enjoy the rendition of Dominic Behan’s “The Auld Triangle” which is preceded by an apology that none of the acts involved are Irish.
Another Day, Another Time: Celebrating the Music of Inside Llewyn Davis first played on the US network Showtime last December and what’s a little baffling is the absence of some of the concert’s star performers. A look at the actual setlist for the gig reveals appearances by Carey Mulligan, John Goodman, Elvis Costello, Conor Oberst and Adam Driver and yet none of them show up in the final film. Whether it’s a rights issue (most likely) or a problems with the performances, it does leave you wanting more when the film’s final credits roll. Plus limited contributions from T. Bone Burnett and only brief sightings of the Coens at rehearsal do leave you reminded that this is really just intended as an supporting act to Inside Llewyn Davis – but what a brilliant supporting act it is.
Released in the Light House Cinema on May 23rd and on DVD/BluRay/VOD on May 26th