It's easy to forget that before the blues echoed across the Mississippi Delta, before hillbilly picking tumbled from the forgotten foothills of the Southeast, before Memphis soul spilled off Beale Street and hip-hop came straight out of Compton, modern music was born and baptized in the gospel tradition.
But T-Bone Burnett, whose O Brother, Where Art Thou soundtrack stoked a bluegrass revival still burning, remembers.
His soundtrack for The Ladykillers couples modern sounds with gospel greats, setting up a compare-and-contrast situation that illuminates the shared bonds and exposing gospel to an audience that might not make it into the music's native sanctuaries.
This is a collection with two goals, the first, like O Brother before it, is to introduce an often marginalized music to a mainstream audience. The other is to pay tribute to the stylistic touches found in modern music that originated in classic gospel arrangements, such as the call-and-response found in blues and jazz, the sliding vocalizations made popular by soul and R&B, and the backbeat rhythms and verse-chorus-verse arrangements of pop and rock.
The most interesting experiments on the soundtrack involve alternative hip-hop act Nappy Roots, which contributed three tracks that incorporate classic gospel tunes into their distinctive style. The result is an engaging balance of the sacred and profane that elevates the Roots' tunes and spotlights the adaptability of gospel as a musical form.
Will The Ladykillers make the Soul Stirrers - Sam Cooke's gospel act before secular music got ahold of him - the stars they should have been in their prime? Perhaps not. After all, O Brother proved most profitable for the Soggy Bottom Boys, a band that never really existed. No, The Ladykillers should be viewed as a Valentine, a love letter long overdue to the music that elevated, enlightened and, when nobody was looking, started a revolution.
Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626 or firstname.lastname@example.org.