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.

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever. But it comes at a cost. Advertisers are cancelling campaigns, and our live events have come to an abrupt halt. Our income has been slashed.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years. We’ve survived thanks to the support of our readers, we will need you to help us get through this.

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


ConCourt settles the law on the public protector and interim...

The Constitutional Court said it welcomed robust debate but criticised the populist rhetoric in the battle between Busisiwe Mkhwebane and Minister Pravin Gordhan

Where is the deputy president?

David Mabuza is hard at work — it’s just not taking place in the public eye. The rumblings and discussion in the ANC are about factions in the ruling party, succession and ousting him

Press Releases

Covid-19 and Back to School Webinar

If our educators can take care of themselves, they can take care of the children they teach

5G technology is the future

Besides a healthcare problem Covid-19 is also a data issue and 5G technology, with its lightning speed, can help to curb its spread

JTI off to court for tobacco ban: Government not listening to industry or consumers

The tobacco ban places 109 000 jobs and 179 000 wholesalers and retailers at risk — including the livelihood of emerging farmers

Holistic Financial Planning for Professionals Webinar

Our lives are constantly in flux, so it makes sense that your financial planning must be reviewed frequently — preferably on an annual basis

Undeterred by Covid-19 pandemic, China and Africa hold hands, building a community of a shared future for mankind

It is clear that building a community with a shared future for all mankind has become a more pressing task than ever before

Wills, Estate Administration and Succession Planning Webinar

Capital Legacy has had no slowdown in lockdown regarding turnaround with clients, in storing or retrieving wills and in answering their questions

Call for Expression of Interest: Training supply and needs assessment to support the energy transition in South Africa

GIZ invites eligible and professional companies with local presence in South Africa to participate in this tender to support the energy transition

Obituary: Mohammed Tikly

His legacy will live on in the vision he shared for a brighter more socially just future, in which racism and discrimination are things of the past

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday