Inside Llewyn Davis [OST] (CD)

The Coen Brothers continue their strong track record with their films’ soundtracks on the Inside Llewyn Davis OST. The film covers a fictionalized version of the 1960s New York folk scene, and as with their O Brother Where Art Thou?soundtrack, this one’s also produced by T. Bone Burnett and features performances by its stars. Lead star Oscar Isaac has a lovely voice, casting a morose spell on opener “Hang Me, Oh Hang Me.” He proves a great match to Marcus Mumford of Mumford & Sons (who worked with Burnett on putting together the soundtrack) on “Fare Thee Well (Dink’s Song).” Those curious about how Justin Timberlake fits into the equation should be directed to the picturesque “Five Hundred Miles,” sung with co-stars Carey Mulligan and Stark Stands, on which Timberlake sounds sweet and of the era, eschewing any pop star touches, while Mulligan stands out with Emmylou Harris-esque backup vocals. They’re not all winners—Timberlake, Isaac and Adam Driver’s “Please Mr. Kennedy” is too goofy out of context from the film—but overall, Isaac successfully emerges as a deserved star from the Inside Llewyn Davis soundtrack, owning most of the songs and holding his own among artists that include Bob Dylan, whose “Farewell” is a gem originally written for The Times They Are A-Changin. (It was released on The Bootleg Series Vol. 9 in 2010.) While you’re waiting for Inside Llewyn Davis to be released, why not check out how its stars recreate the 1960s folk scene on its soundtrack? You won’t be disappointed. 

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Down In Washington Square: The Smithsonian Folkways Collection (CD)

Dave Van Ronk epitomized the "folksinger's folksinger" apprenticing through immersion in the folk music revival's epicenter of Washington Square, mentoring musicians such as Bob Dylan, Suzanne Vega, and many more. Drawing from unreleased recordings as well as from the Smithsonian Folkways vault, Down on Washington Square paints a musical mosaic of Van Ronk's artistry.

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Range Of Light (CD)
Sean Carey tours and records with Bon Iver and his music should appeal to BI fans with some ease. The music is sparse but improbably thoughtful, with every sound in its just-right place without being stiff or over-ordered. I recall reading somewhere that Carey is primarily a percussionist and it comes out in every aspect of the music. Melodies and textures following different rhythms shuffle in and out, bouncing off of each other in a sort of Sufjan Stevens small folkorchestra take on Steve Reichian polyrhythms. Though the album is mostly acoustic instruments (albeit with almost constant buzzing electronics), many of the hushed, soulful vocal inflections and the aforementioned skittering density of the rhythmic components give the record a sort of IDM feeling, a Postal Service unplugged with vocals. Less twee, more sad, more smokey, more sleepy (not fully Rhye, but around there). A remarkable achievement. Read more
July (CD)

For ten years, Boston's Marissa Nadler has been releasing icy, dreamy folk music for the likes of Eclipse, Kemado, and her own Box of Cedar Records. Sometimes this can lean towards a particularly gothic baroque take on slow, viscous alt-country; sometimes it manifests as vaguely British in scope, witch-ballads for Pentangle or Roy Harper. With July, her first release for Brooklyn-based nu-era indie ppwerhouse Sacred Bones, Nadler pulls her sound back and out, employing Randall Dunn as producer and situating her songs at the center of a newly carved ice-cavern, with less light getting in than ever before. Dunn, who has worked with ambient-metal susperstars Earth & Sunn O))), gives Nadler a sound that fits comfortably within the black-lace-on-everything aesthetic of her new label. We still get a little high and lonesome, with lyrics doing the epic love and loss despair circuit, but the gothic erudition has been dialed up to 11. Unlike her previous tendencies to get a little British in this stripped down context, we find, on this record, a particularly American country-gothic, something out of Richard Brautigan's Hawkline Monster. Beautiful, haunting, promising.

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