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T Bone Burnett Discusses His "American Roots Music"
How New Audiences Are Discovering Old Bluegrass

T-Bone Burnett Listen to Scott Simon's report

T Bone Burnett
T Bone Burnett says: "As a producer I only like the things I can't control... the parts that create their own rhythms."
Photo: Columbia Records

July 28, 2001 -- T Bone Burnett and his albums inhabit a soulful, bluegrassy paradise. The music he makes and the artists he brings together are harmonious reminders for those us who've long forgotten the "grass" of our "roots."

Born in St. Louis, Missouri, and raised in Fort Worth, Texas, Burnett is a child of deep-souled music.

He is a talented blues musician and an insightful producer, creating albums for acts ranging from Elvis Costello to the Counting Crows.

More recently, he produced the hit sound track to the Coen Brothers movie O Brother, Where Art Thou? -- a Billboard chart-topper for 33 weeks and counting -- as well as Down from the Mountain, an album of recordings made in May 2000 at the historic Ryman Auditorium in Nashville.

Burnett's work on these albums is proof that music need not be glossy and over-produced to appeal to a wide audience. The artists on O Brother and Down from the Mountain are real people who, more often than not, are just now getting their first taste of true stardom.

Artists such as Ralph Stanley (whose career spans half a century) and John Hartford (who passed away shortly after Down from the Mountain was recorded) are just beginning to receive the public recognition they have long deserved.

Compare Different Versions of Bluegrass Songs
From Following CDs

Man of Constant Sorrow
Cover of Ralph Stanley's Man of Constant Sorrow
Photo: Lost Highway Records

Cuts from the album:
• "Man of Constant

O Brother Where Art Thou?
Cover of O Brother, Where Art Thou?
Photo: Lost Highway Records

Cuts from the album:
• "Man of Constant Sorrow
• "Big Rock Candy Mountain"
• "Po Lazarus"

Down from the Mountain
Cover of Down from the Mountain
Photo: Lost Highway Records

Cuts from the album:

• "Big Rock Candy Mountain
• "Po Lazarus"

But we don't expect the same old artists from an unusual producer. Burnett has a different approach: He shuns the current trend of using computer programs to do what was once an artist's job, and continues to use classic equipment.

The recordings on Down from the Mountain were made using vintage microphones. The vocals are rich but not simple and the music is no less than pure joy.

On Weekend Edition Saturday, Scott Simon talks to Burnett about the making of the O Brother, Where Art Thou? sound track, the new Down from the Mountain, and the resurgent interest in American roots music.

Web Resources:
Visit the official site of O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack.

Check out Down From the Mountain, a documentary film based on the music of O Brother, Where Art Thou?