The beginning of the 21st century brought audiences a film with one of the most thoughtful and moving soundtracks of all time.
released in 2000, oh brother, where are you? features a wealth of early American music, from traditional Christian hymns to African-American spirituals and blues music. As the depression-era story of Ulysses Everett McGill unfolds in the film, listen to O Brother, Where Are You? soundtrack below.
po lazarus – james carter
In the 1950s and 1960s, music archivist Alan Lomax led a number of projects to archive the music of various blues and folk artists. Thanks to his work, you can now listen to many early African-American artists on the Library of Congress site who might otherwise have fallen into obscurity. one of these recordings is the james carter song ‘po lazarus’, inspired by a chain gang. was used in a scene from o brother, where are you? with a group of forced labor prisoners working on a highway.
Related: Listen to more inspirational songs about resilience.
the great candy mountain – harry mclintock
this was supposedly the first song that harry mcclintock composed. Although it is speculated that he originally wrote it in 1895, it did not become a well-known tune until the 1930s. The overall story of the song centers on a wanderer who accidentally “discovered paradise on earth”. the original version features some pretty suggestive lyrics, especially for the early 20th century. other folk artists like lisa loebe have covered a radio station version with more radio friendly lyrics.
related: this song is on our list of mountain songs.
you are my sunshine – norman blake
technically, this classic tune hadn’t been written yet when the movie was shot. oh brother, where are you? It focuses on the American Great Depression that took place in the 1930s. “You Are My Sunshine” was first recorded in 1940. It is featured in a poignant scene in the film when a group of people sing it together as they try to forget everyone. problems that have arisen due to depression.
related: here are the best sun songs.
go down to the river to pray – alison krauss
alison krauss lends her soft, angelic voice to the historic christian spiritual hymn ‘down to the river to pray’ for a baptism scene in o brother, where are you? The earliest version of this acapella song was recorded in 1867 and is credited with an “African-American spiritual.” Over the decades, the song has had many covers, with countless artists including blues/folk legend performing the song.
related: Head over to our list of river songs.
I’m a man of constant sadness – soggy background guys and dan tyminski
The Soggy Bottom Boys are a fictional band created exclusively for the film. Nashville singers like Dan Tyminski provided vocals for the singing of O Brother, Where Are You? actors like george clooney Although the movie version of “I’m a Man of Constant Pain” is the most popular, it was originally written in the early 20th century by Richard Burnett, a blind folk singer.
Related: Find this classic in our playlist of popular country songs.
hard to kill the floor blues – chris thomas king
There’s nothing like hearing the original version of “Hard Time Killing Floor Blues” by blues artist Skip James. his haunting voice and his vibrant guitar picking is an experience like no other for fans of early delta blues. chris thomas king covers this harsh song from oh brother, where are you? Speculation about the song’s meaning points to African Americans who left the South to seek a better life in Chicago during the depression, only to find harsher conditions.
Related: Starting over with these songs about a new beginning.
stay on the sunny side – the white ones
oh brother, where are you? The soundtrack is full of old American music, including the 1899 tune, “Keep on the Sunny Side.” Ada Blenkhorn originally wrote it as a Christian hymn for his nephew. he used a wheelchair and always wanted to be pushed to the “sunny side of the street”. artists over the years have transformed the song through their covers. the white version appeared in the film in 2000.
i’ll fly away – alison krauss and gillian welch
‘i’ll fly away’ was written in 1929, the same year the stock market crashed in the united states and the great depression began. Despite the bleak economic circumstances at the time it was written, the Christian hymn is full of optimism. allison krauss and gillian welch paired up for this song for the o brother, where are you? movie. he has also appeared in the heartwarming soccer movie “greater”.
Related: Listen to more classic gospel songs.
left no one but the baby: alison krauss, emmylou harris and gillian welch
This song has been around for so long that no one knows its exact attribution. those who have worked to trace its origin have found its beginnings in African-American and Irish cultures. sung like a lullaby, its languid melody is combined with a dark story from the perspective of a father whose wife has run away. With no other options, she sings the song to calm her baby as she prepares to poison him.
Related: Check out our baby song playlist.
on the roads – the peasall sisters
the peasall sisters recorded the maybelle carter song “in the highways” specifically for the theme “o brother, where are you?” film and soundtrack. At the time of the film’s release in 2000, the young group of three brothers were busy touring and releasing music. Although they are no longer together, much of their legacy lives on in the film. Maylle Carter was part of the famous Carter family gang, including June Carter, before she met Johnny Cash.
Related: Listen to more highways in our list of the best songs about cars.
i’m tired (let me rest) – the cox family
American musician Pete Roberts originally wrote “I’m Tired (Let Me Rest)” in the early 1930s. He was a seminal figure in the early days of the bluegrass movement. he often played with the group of country gentlemen. the cox family recorded their own version of this classic song for o brother, where are you? movie.
oh death – ralph stanley
ralph stanley’s take on this traditional old fashioned appalachian style earned him a grammy. Originally, soundtrack producer T-Bone Burnett wanted a simple banjo instrumental song for the film. But Stanley convinced him otherwise when he recorded an acapella version in the studio. The song is often associated with early 1920s Baptist preacher Lloyd Chandler.
Related: Go to our playlist for more songs about someone dying.
now in jail – soaking ass boys with tim blake nelson
the soggy bottom boys is a fictional band that the cohen brothers created specifically for o brother, where are you? movie. Tim Blake Nelson is an actor who played one of the characters, Delmar O’Donnell, in the movie. because ‘in jail now’, he sits with the soaking wet boys. country artist jimmie rodgers originally recorded the song in 1928.
indian war cry – john hartford
for the o brother, where are you? film, this song from the late 1920s is presented as a violin-centric instrument with occasional harmonies. Before John Hartford recorded his own version for the 2000 film, Floyd Ming and his band, The Pep Steppers, released the original version in 1928.
lonely valley – the fairfield four
the fairfield four is a popular gospel group that entered the studio in 2000 to provide vocals and harmonies for the 20th century christian song “lonesome valley” featured on o brother, where art you? With traditionalist roots, the song is considered sacred and is still used to this day in churches for ceremonial purposes. the fairfield four offers a haunting and deeply spiritual take on the depression era movie.
band of angels – the stanley brothers and the clinch mountain boys
‘angel band’ dates back to 1860. its lyrics are written in a poem by jefferson hascall. The first songwriter officially associated with the song is William Bradbury. The gospel hymn has taken many forms over the years, as quite a few artists have covered the timeless tune. The Stanley Brothers provided the best-known version to date in the Cohen Brothers’ film, Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? published in 2000.
related: You’ll love these heavenly songs about angels.