Neither the film Inside Llewyn Davis nor its soundtrack had hit theaters or stores in September 2013 when a phalanx of roots musicians gathered at New York City’s Town Hall to sing some old folk songs together. Frequent Coen Brothers collaborator T Bone Burnett organized the concert as a loose celebration of the music featured in the film, a bleak comedy of haplessness that follows a frustrated folk singer in 1960 as he plies his trade around Manhattan. Featuring older legends alongside some of the younger musicians they inspired, the event was filmed and released first as a documentary and now as a soundtrack, both titled Another Day Another Time: Celebrating the Music of “Inside Llewyn Davis”.
In some ways it’s not too far removed from the folk and blues showcases curated by archivists and producers like John Hammond and Alan Lomax in the 1940s, who brought then-obscure folk acts like Leadbelly and Dock Boggs to venues like Carnegie Hall. But the real precursor for Another Day Another Time is obviously Down from the Mountain, which in 2000 extended the success of O Brother Where Art Thou? from screen to stage. That movie played its rural milieu for cheap laughs, but the soundtrack played it straight and sold millions, won the Grammy for Album of the Year in 2002, and inspired today’s highly dubious folk boomlet. Of course it would be nearly impossible for Inside Llewyn Davis to match the fluke success of O Brother, especially the fluke part, so the concert is premature at best and self-congratulatory at worst. There’s something suspicious in this cart-before-the-horse endeavor, which plays less like a celebratory concert and more like an elaborate promotional push.
A year and a half later, we know all the beats of the movie, but how would concertgoers have responded to Elvis Costello, Adam Driver, and Oscar Isaac so faithfully re-creating “Please Mr. Kennedy” with no knowledge of its use in the film? Did they even know who Isaac was when he took the stage to perform “Hang Me, O Hang Me”? His performance was crucial to the movie, projecting more melancholy than the Coen Brothers could muster themselves, but the gravity he brings to the stage can be unwieldy: Singing “Green Rocky Road”, he makes the line, “Hooka tooka soda cracker, does your mama smoke tobacco?” sound like a suicide note.
While Burnett has spent the 13 years between Down from the Mountain and Another Day Another Time becoming the most ubiquitous man in Americana as well as the most boring, he at least assembles a diverse line-up for the show. There are some of his expected cohorts, including Costello, Marcus Mumford, and Rhiannon Giddens, all of whom appear on Burnett’s New Basement Tapes project in 2014. Giddens bulldozes her two songs, showing little of the interpretive nuance that distinguished the Carolina Chocolate Drops, and Mumford pretty much just shows up. But there’s also the Milk Carton Kids evoking the collegiate folk of Simon & Garfunkel, Colin Meloy lowering the stakes of Jackson C. Frank’s “Blues Run the Game”, and the Punch Brothers harmonizing on “Tumbling Tumbleweeds” (wait, isn’t that Big Lebowski?). Lake Street Dive conjure some much-needed lasciviousness on the R&B-stoked “You Go Down Smooth”, showing how folk can meld so naturally with other genres, and Jack White, huffing helium while gargling gravel, offers a respite from the event’s staid pace with rambunctious renditions of “Did You Hear John Hurt?” and the Stripes’ own “We’re Going to Be Friends”.
Still, Another Day Another Time doesn’t have much more to say about the genre and its lasting influence than “Yay, folk!” The lack of any sort of critical thesis or undergirding may seem merely academic, but it translates into performances that are wanly reverent and unanimated, celebrating the music mainly for its age but not its actual history. Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the concert is how apolitical it is. Throughout most of the 20th century, folk was a highly radicalized form, largely because it heralded a populist political stance. Simply playing this music and teaching it to others was enough for the House Un-American Activities Committee to brand Pete Seeger a commie. “This Land Is Your Land” may be our unofficial national anthem, but Woody Guthrie intended it as a protest song. It’s actually refreshing to hear Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings sing the unpopular verse lamenting the very idea of private property, but how much were those concert tickets again?
Folk songs aren’t private property. Especially in 2015, when racial violence is depressingly common and the disparity between the haves and have-nots unfathomably wide, this music ought to be more relevant than ever. But there’s no sense of danger or dissent in any performance on Another Day Another Time, and therefore there is no sense of courage or outrage to illuminate the songs. The fatal flaw in this concert is that these artists are only celebrating folk music when they should be practicing it.
from Album Reviews – Pitchfork http://ift.tt/1Bj2U6c