Inside Llewyn Davis: A folk soundtrack for 2014

The Coen brothers' Inside Llewyn Davis is loosely based on the memoirs of folk singer Dave Van Ronk, who was influential among the plethora of folk musicians that circulated the Greenwich scene during the 60s. It is said that Bob Dylan was inspired by Van Ronk's music.

The character of Llewyn Davis, a somewhat unlikable but talented musician, seems stuck in a never-ending loop of failure and an inability to really crack the big time. The film investigates the sheer luck that leads to fame and the thin line between being a threadbare, broke musician and a superstar.

The old-timey roots soundtrack, created by O Brother, Where Art Thou?'s T-bone Burnett, draws heavily on the folk and blues sound that was big in New York at the time. All recordings are modern save one unreleased Bob Dylan track, Farewell.

An excellent soundtrack is key to a film that's main character is music, and though some songs do not work well as stand-alones, overall it is a perfectly-pitched accompaniment to a film that is understated, sparse, lonely and very beautiful.

Oscar Isaacs was born to play the role of dog-out-of-luck Davis. Hang on, Oh Hang Me, is a heart-wrenching opening, displaying the melancholic character of Davis with sardonic lyrics such as "hang me, oh hang me/ I'll be dead and gone/ wouldn't mind the hangin' / but the layin' in the grave so long".

A welcome upbeat is the quirky Please Mr Kennedy, with the surprise addition of Justin Timberlake. Actress Carey Mulligan adds pleasant sweetness to the group harmony Five Hundred Miles. The Auld Triangle with Marcus Mumford and Timberlake is another stand-out song, and Van Ronk's heartfelt yet unsentimental Green Rocky Road caps the set. But it is Isaacs's final performance of The Death of Queen Jane that really breaks through to spine-tingling dimensions.

If you're not into Americana, blue-collar guitar-strumming, then by no means listen to this. As with The Everly Brothers, too much "moma take me home," "he was a gamblin' man" can get, well, too much.

Otherwise, the album is as they say, a hootin' good time. It could very well bring folk back into the popular stream and will most definitely pique renewed interest in Dylan and Van Ronk. Like Llewyn Davis on his oddball journey, it's the road-to-nowhere kind of music that takes you far, far away.

PW Botha wagged his finger and banned us in 1988 but we stood firm. We built a reputation for fearless journalism, then, and now. Through these last 35 years, the Mail & Guardian has always been on the right side of history.

These days, we are on the trail of the merry band of corporates and politicians robbing South Africa of its own potential.

To help us ensure another 35 future years of fiercely independent journalism, please subscribe.


Test backlog skews SA’s corona stats

With thousands of samples still waiting to be processed, labs are racing to ramp up testing to help the government gain a better idea of how prevalent Covid-19 really is

M&G’s latest Covid-19 projections

Covid-19 numbers are prompting disaster declarations and dramatic action across South Africa this week. All steps should be directed by numbers

Press Releases

The online value of executive education in a Covid-19 world

Executive education courses further develop the skills of leaders in the workplace

Sisa Ntshona urges everyone to stay home, and consider travelling later

Sisa Ntshona has urged everyone to limit their movements in line with government’s request

SAB Zenzele’s special AGM postponed until further notice

An arrangement has been announced for shareholders and retailers to receive a 77.5% cash payout

20th Edition of the National Teaching Awards

Teachers are seldom recognised but they are indispensable to the country's education system

Awards affirm the vital work that teachers do

Government is committed to empowering South Africa’s teachers with skills, knowledge and techniques for a changing world

SAB Zenzele special AGM rescheduled to March 25 2020

New voting arrangements are being made to safeguard the health of shareholders

Dimension Data launches Saturday School in PE

The Gauteng Saturday School has produced a number of success stories