Published Jan 01, 2014On September 29, T-Bone Burnett assembled the best folk musicians working today at the Town Hall in New York City to perform music that influenced the Coen brothers' newest, and arguably best film, Inside Llewyn Davis.
Musicians including Jack White, Joan Baez, Patti Smith, the Milk Carton Kids, the Avett Brothers, the Punch Brothers (who serve as house band), and Marcus Mumford are mic'd at all times. We see Burnett assigning songs, harmonies constructed, and the Coens standing about ruminatively amidst backstage nerves and laughter. It's a lovely glimpse into the nuts and bolts of folk music. Baez practices with one musician, can't come up with anything that works for her aging voice, and then enlists Marcus Mumford to sing with her instead. A dapper T-Bone struts around the room smoking a joint. Joey Ryan of the Milk Carton Kids nervously deadpans that he hasn't heard of Simon and Garfunkel, nervously corrects himself after receiving a death stare from his partner, and then the duo perform a few songs in the rehearsal space that stun a room of world-class musicians into dead silence.
Jack White's on-stage performance begins with limited energy, perhaps a result of the alcohol he's seen drinking backstage. Then there's an interesting choice. While the concert features nothing but folk standards, White's second song is his "We're Going to Be Friends," suggesting White's best songs are as timeless as the jewels celebrated here.
Given the unenviable role of following White is Llewyn himself, the Julliard-trained actor and musician Oscar Isaac. Isaac is so invested in Llewyn's signature songs, "Hang Me, Oh Hang Me," and "Fare Thee Well" that he steals the stage right back from White with ease. During rehearsal, musicians young and old, rich and not very rich, listen to Isaac with rueful grins on their faces like they're thinking, "This guy is a great actor too. I just play this fiddle. Unfair!" Isaac worked for months on a handful of songs, so it's hard to know if he could jump into the Dave Rawlings Machine's robust version of "This Land is Our Land" and still hold his own.
Marcus Mumford steals the hour-and-44-minute concert film. Folk purists who see Mumford's massive success as somehow anti-folk will struggle to find fault with him here. Mumford was brought on as associate musical producer of Inside Llewyn Davis by Burnett, and it's his duet with Isaac on "Fare Thee Well" that's used in the trailer and the film's best scene. Despite headlining the concert, he joins several acts throughout the show in various backup roles. His solo agony on Dylan's "I Was Young When I Left Home" makes a case that Marcus Mumford might be better off without his Sons.
After originally airing on Showtime, Another Day, Another Time is now available on Netflix in Canada. (Netflix)