'O Brother' Phenomenon Continues To Grow

Nearly two years after its release, Lost Highway's "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" soundtrack continues to cause ripple effects in the music industry. The Grammy-winning album of blues, mountain, and oth

Nearly two years after its release, Lost Highway's "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" soundtrack continues to cause ripple effects in the music industry. The Grammy-winning album of blues, mountain, and other Americana music has sold 5.5 million copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan. This week the set reclaimed the No. 1 position on Billboard's Top Country Albums chart for a 35th non-consecutive week, and jumped 19-7 this week on The Billboard 200.

Album producer T Bone Burnett and "O Brother" filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen are partners in the new DMZ Records label, and the soundtrack's artists are out on a second tour of the country this summer.

The Down From the Mountain tour, which as previously reported, begins Tuesday (June 25) in Louisville, Ky., includes Ralph Stanley, Alison Krauss, the Whites, the Fairfield Four, Emmylou Harris, and Patty Loveless. Stops are scheduled in 42 cities, including Atlanta, Dallas, Chicago, Seattle and Los Angeles (not all the artists listed will play every show).

Kevin Lyman, president of Immortal Touring & Events, which organized the Down From the Mountain trek as well as the annual punk rock Warped Tour outing, says it's significant that some performers -- Rodney Crowell, Rosanne Cash, and the Flatlanders among them -- are not on the "O Brother" soundtrack. "In an overall soft market for the touring season, we're going to hold our own," Lyman said. "If we can keep the brand going and expose more artists, we can expand the genre a bit."

He plans to follow up with a Tribute to Ralph Stanley tour this fall. "I just refer to these acts as punk rockers from Appalachia," Lyman said. "They're so hardworking and have been neglected by the broader audience. We're trying to expand beyond their core audience, and that's why they're working with us."

The first release from DMZ Records, launched last week in affiliation with Sony, is a self-titled album by the 75-year-old Stanley, who found a new audience when his voice was featured singing "O Death" in the "O Brother" film. The album debuted at No. 22 on the Top Country Albums chart and entered The Billboard 200 chart at No. 163.

DMZ also has released a Louisiana-inspired soundtrack for the "Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood" movie, and plans an album with a Civil War theme for the upcoming film adaptation of the best-selling novel "Cold Mountain."

Despite its success, the "O Brother" soundtrack has largely been overlooked by commercial radio, and Burnett said the increasingly consolidated music and radio industries are missing the mark. "I think the idea is to try to create an environment where artists can be free to do what they do," Burnett said. "We had that with 'O Brother.' ... I want to make sure that we can offer that to other people, and I think it's unusual in show business in general."

Instead of Stanley's band, the Clinch Mountain Boys, DMZ used musicians who were featured on "O Brother," which results in a more contemplative sound, Burnett said. "We were more careful," he said. "Bluegrass music has been marginalized to the point where there's so little money that it's impossible to really spend much time on it."

"We spent probably three or four weeks on this record, which is probably a modern bluegrass record. It's like Ralph Stanley with a string quartet," Burnett muses. "I wanted to record it very respectfully, as if it were that."

Stanley, who began his career with the Stanley Brothers 50 years ago (see this week's "Chart Beat Chat" for more), says the "O Brother" film "put this music out where millions could hear it, where it's never been heard before. I think that got a new audience, and a larger audience."

"I've always done well, I thought," he adds. "But now at personal appearances young girls and boys, five and six years old, come up and sing `O Death' to me. They're five and six years old now. If they're there for life, that's a long time, isn't it?"

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