I've often said that if I don't like an album there's no reason to review it. Too many releases and too little time to spend squawking about what I don't like rather than what I do like. And realistically, who cares what I have to say about it? I'm not a judge nor a jury. Just a guy with two ears, a heart and soul. All the requirements any of us need to be a listener. And do you really need two ears with electronic wizardry that can turn a stereo mix into mono?
A critic on the other hand, that takes some skill. You need to research, be comfortable with your subject matter, site sources, have knowledge of the craft and have some sort of track record that people can relate to and believe. So that leaves me out.
But here in eight words and two periods is what I have to say about the new Coen Brothers/T-Bone Burnett extravaganza Inside Llewyn Davis:
Don't go to see it. Wait for Netflix.
Better yet, go watch the Showtime special around the film that documents a September concert at New York's Town Hall that captures much better the old time music and vibe of the sixties. Gillian and Dave, Marcus Mumford without the sons, Punch Brothers, Oscar Isaacs (a really good singer and actor who the Coen's put this anchor around his neck with a terrible plot and dialog), Joan Baez, Patti Smith and a bunch of others. It's two hours of great performances, and despite T-Bone appearing as some bizarre mad scientist stalking around the rehearsal space burning wood as the Coens leer, it's fine television indeed.
Peter Stone Brown wrote a piece titled "This Film Is Not About Dave Van Ronk" and he captures in two paragraphs what I felt after seeing it at a Saturday matinee where I had to convince the cashier I qualified for a senior discount (I don't) and once inside it was clear that at sixty one years of age I was the youngest person in the house.
"Now the Coen Brothers say they like the music of that time and wanted to make a film about it. They enlisted the considerable talents of T-Bone Burnett to make sure the music was right, which he did.
But then they concocted one of the most preposterous story lines to go with it, about this guy wandering around, knocking women up, abortions that didn’t happen and abortions that are about to happen in a way that didn’t happen in 1962. Davis crashes from couch to couch, sometimes with this escaped cat, goes to Chicago, auditions for an Albert Grossman (Bob Dylan’s manager seen in the film Dont Look Back) comes back, obnoxiously yells at someone onstage (apparently based on folksinger Jean Ritchie), and gets the shit beat out of him as a young Bob Dylan takes the stage. That’s it."
Should I have just said "SPOILER ALERT"? Because that's pretty much the entire movie. Sorry.
Last week in the Village Voice, Dave Van Ronk's ex-wife Terri Thal wrote a piece about the film, the man, the music, the times and the reality of the times...as you might come to suspect, she sets it straight. And as I see it, the truth is much more interesting than Hollywood's take on it.
About the soundtrack: the music is not bad at all, and Oscar Isaac does a pretty darn good job of it. He doesn't try to be Dave Van Ronk, because as you already know, it's not a story about Dave Van Ronk but fiction, based on the stories of Dave Van Ronk. Got that? But on the down side, "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" it is not. While I'm sure the thought of hearing Justin Timberlake's version of "Five Hundred Miles" might be hard to resist, perhaps if this film sparks an interest in folk music and the early sixties, there are other places to look.
Hal Willner's tribute to pioneering musicologist Harry Smith's documentation and preservation of American folk forms, featuring contemporay musicians.
Unlike field recorders, eccentric filmmaker/collector/musicologist Harry Smith assembled the Anthology from commercially released (though obscure) 78 rpm discs issued between 1927 and 1935. Its broad scope--from country blues to Cajun social music to Appalachian murder ballads--was monumentally influential, setting musicians like Bob Dylan down the path to folk fandom.
This recording features classic performances by classic artists doing some of their classic songs during the great folksong revival of the 1940s through 1960s. It is some of the great performances from the vaults of Folkways Records.
The extraordinary folk and blues singer and guitarist Dave Van Ronk is inextricably linked, first and foremost, to the folk music scene in New York City's Greenwich Village in the 1960s. Van Ronk, born in Brooklyn on June 30, 1936, and of Irish origin, performed for more than four decades before passing in 2002. He made his first record for Moses Asch's Folkways label in 1959 and won far-reaching recognition for his recordings with Prestige in the 1960s.
Sort of satirized in the Coens' film, go ask Bob Dylan and Tom Paxton and anyone else still alive from that era the importance of the Clancy Brothers on American folk music.
And finally, a hard-to-watch scene from the film. And I rest my case.