Inside Llewyn Davis:OST (Nonesuch)
The Coen Brothers rekindled interest in Americana of the 1930s with their 2000 film O Brother, Where Art Thou? T-Bone Burnett produced the songs — country bluegrass, folk, gospel and blues — and recruited artists such as Gillian Welch, Alison Krauss and Ralph Stanley. It sold 8 million copies, won the Grammy for Album of the Year and made forgotten genres of music like traditional bluegrass and mountain music commercially viable again.
Burnett and the Coens’ latest collaboration may rekindle the same level of interest in the folk music of a half-century ago. Inside Llewyn Davis follows a brooding, Dave Van Ronk-like folkie around the Greenwich Village folk scene of the early ‘60s. Stars Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan and Justin Timberlake perform folks songs in the film and are featured on this soundtrack. Other contributors include Marcus Mumford of Mumford & Sons, Bob Dylan, Chris Thile and his band Punch Brothers, and Ronk himself.
Singer-actor Isaac, a Julliard graduate, portrays the title character and is the chief soundtrack performer, singing hauntingly on half the 14 tracks here. He holds his own duetting with Mumford on the traditional “Fare Thee Well (Dink’s Song),” a stand out of the album. He also shines on aged ballads from the British Isles, including “The Death of Queen Jane,” and “The Shoals of Herring,” the latter with backing from Punch Brothers.
Timberlake tones his dancefloor swagger down to zero for his two appearances here. He, Mulligan and Stark Sands share vocals on the Peter, Paul & Mary-esque “Five Hundred Miles.” Mulligan, who has previously sung on a Belle & Sebastian track, has a rich, warm tone, recalling Jenny Lewis, formerly of Rilo Kiley. It’s a shame she’s heard on only a single track.
Dylan wrote and recorded “Farewell” some 50 years ago for “The Times They Are A-Changin’” album. It didn’t make the final cut, eventually popping up on bootlegs and in covers by Judy Collins and Pete Seeger before its first official release here.
Regardless of whether “Inside Llewyn Davis” reignites a second folk boom or captures Grammy voters’ attention, this is a knockout collection of music simply played and gorgeously sung. MIKE KALIL
Magic Hour (City Hour)
It seems like the reunion no one was clamoring for.
Luscious Jackson put out a trio of ‘90s indie-pop albums that stewed together a melting pot of New York sounds: jazzy keyboards, wah-wah guitars and breathy vocals set against funk and hip-hop beats with a dash of Latin and reggae rhythms.
Guitarist/vocalist Gabby Glaser, bassist/vocalist Jill Cuniff, keyboardist Vivian Trimble and drummer Kate Schellenbach debuted with the smoking In Search of Manny EP on the Beastie Boys’ Grand Royal label in 1993 (Schellenbach was the Beasties’ original drummer in the early ‘80s hardcore days.)
They followed that stunning start with a trio of middling-to-mediocre major label efforts over the next five years, producing the minor alternative hit “Naked Eye.” But not much else of note came, and they’re mostly remembered for being an offshoot of the Beastie Boys and their coterie of Grand Royal cool kids.
Calling Magic Hour, their first album in 14 years, a return-to-form isn’t exactly a compliment or a barb. It’s about as good as any of their previous long-players. (Trimble sits this one out, as she did 1999’s sluggish Electric Honey.)
Opener “You and Me” packs a careening guitar line over a sing-songy vocal and a range of percussion for an energetic blastoff. “#1 Bum” verges on novelty tribute to a lover’s greatest ass-et with the double entendre line “I got your back.” Beastie Ad-Rock produced the sultry duet “So Rock On,” the most compelling combination of electronic and acoustic instruments on the album. And there’s a touching tribute to his departed bandmate Adam Yauch on “We Go Back.”
There are several weak songs, most notably the cloying “Aah Turn It Up!” But little here sounds extraneous or indulgent. All the songs clock in under four minutes, and three of the strongest don’t crack the three-minute mark.
The record was crowd-funded, so maybe there is a core group of aging hipsters hungry for Luscious Jackson’s particular cross-cultural blend of sounds. But nothing here is any more essential than the band’s easily forgotten albums from the last century.