Forget the radio. Sometimes the best place to hear great music is at the movies. The directing Coen brothers ("The Ladykillers," "Fargo" and others) are known for filling theirs with marvelous sounds culled from a wide spectrum of styles. Anthony Minghella's films, such as "The English Patient" and "The Talented Mr. Ripley," likewise mixed a cool blend of instrumentals and pop standards.
Now consider musician-producer-arranger T Bone Burnett, who has worked with the three cinematic masters. His Grammy-winning collection of bluegrass and folk tunes for the Coens' film "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" created a truly out-of-left-field sensation. He worked similar old-new alchemy for Minghella's "Cold Mountain," pairing the songwriting skills of Sting and Elvis Costello, among others, with the bittersweet beauty of plaintive Civil War balladry. Though not quite the sales hit "O Brother" was, the soundtrack beats with a beautiful heartache and earned two Oscar nominations for original songs, though it lost to the "Lord of the Rings: Return of the King" juggernaut.
Using the "O Brother" and "Cold Mountain" soundtracks as a thematic hook, one of this summer's most anticipated concerts brings together a huge-but-healthy and truly tasty musical buffet of world-class roots musicians at Wolf Trap. Whether you're into Southern gospel, rural blues, Appalachian music, roots rock or a stew of them all, Wednesday is a night to delight.
Alison Krauss, represented on both soundtrack albums, makes for a great headline act. Krauss, a local favorite who signed with Rounder Records when she was just 14, has a gorgeous voice and wickedly good fiddle skills. She's won 13 Grammy awards as a soloist and collaborator and will be performing with Union Station, featuring Jerry Douglas.
And there's plenty more to get excited about, including Ralph Stanley (whose "O Death" can still send chills down your spine), the Whites, Norman and Nancy Blake, Nashville Bluegrass Band, Tim Eriksen, Riley Baugus, Dirk Powell, Reeltime Travelers, Sacred Harp Singers and Sierra & Cody Hull.
A new act on the bill, but one with a great reputation already, is the hip and funky vocal group known as Ollabelle. In March, DMZ/Columbia Records (of which Burnett is a founder) released this six-member ensemble's eponymous debut. Though Ollabelle sounds as if it might have been discovered on some old tape archived by a musicologist such as Alan Lomax, it actually formed in New York City in the wake of Sept. 11, 2001, when friends gathered at a local watering hole to find hope in some spiritual songs.
Ollabelle isn't afraid to jump from original material to radically revised gospel standards or even a Rolling Stones cover tune and has earned favorable comparisons to the likes of the Band and Delaney & Bonnie.
No, this isn't your grandfather's roots music. But he'll have just as much fun as you will if you bring him to the mountain.
-- MARIANNE MEYER
Wolf Trap is at 1551 Trap Rd. Tickets are $45 for in-house seating and $25 for general admission to the lawn. Tickets can be purchased at the center's box office; by calling tickets.com at 703-218-6500; or online at www.wolftrap.org. For more information, call 703-255-1860.
* And now a quick word on more good music and for a good cause. Last week, Vienna coffeehouse and club Jammin' Java hosted a press conference and CD-release concert for "ParkinSong Volume One: 38 Songs of Hope," a two-CD set from contemporary singer-songwriters created to benefit Parkinson's disease research. The set features many local performing favorites, previously unreleased songs by Steve Forbert, Dave Alvin and Last Train Home, plus contributions from Bonnie Raitt, David Crosby and Graham Nash, Dar Williams, Kelly Willis and more. For more info or to order, visit www.parkinsong.com.
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