Listen: Inside Llewyn Davis
Various Artists (Nonesuch, 2013)
The songwriter is dead. Long live the songwriter. The Inside Llewyn Davis soundtrack comes from the 2013 film of the same name by Ethan and Joel Coen. The film and its music ride on the trend of popular music with songs that are not exactly country, not exactly folk, and not exactly Americana. Instead it’s an era, according to producer T-Bone Burnett, that belongs to the songwriter. Think Taylor Swift, Marcus Mumford, Adele, the Lumineers.
Burnett collaborated with the Coen Brothers to produce an album that largely serves as a musical score. And while it stands on its own without the film, there are moments—particularly, “Please Mr. Kennedy”—that are too bouncy, unrestrained, and even silly to cohesively play with the subtlety of the rest of the collection. But as in another Burnett-produced album for the Coen Brothers—namely, O Brother, Where Art Thou?—it’s not difficult to give the collection a little room considering the greatness behind the work.
The film’s lead is played by Oscar Isaac, and, accordingly, the soundtrack centers on his vocals. Isaac is a capable singer, but there’s something missing in his voice—a sharp edge or a charisma the listener can hang their hat on. He gets the job done, but the album’s X-factor belongs to contributions from the Punch Brothers, Marcus Mumford, Justin Timberlake, and the Bob Dylan song, “Farewell.”
At first, Inside Llewyn Davis risks sounding like an album made for folksy fans who really like songs that include the phrase “fare thee well.” But like the rest of the Coen Brothers’ creations, what’s good about the soundtrack is the world it creates. Inside Llewyn Davis is an album that really shines with the isolation and acute attention some earbuds and an iPod demand. To maximize enjoyment, hole up with a headset as a portal to this latest Coen Brothers’ world.
This article appeared in the April 2014 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 79, No. 4, page 42).