- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 6, 2001

VARIOUS ARTISTSO Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack(Mercury Nashville Records)

Rarely these days does a soundtrack seem to be trying to do more than churn out a succession of hits by radio-friendly bands. The soundtrack to the new Joel and Ethan Coen film, however, is arranged terrifically — the folk and bluegrass tunes slide naturally into the spirituals and gospel tunes, belonging together.

The songs are the Southern sound of the 1930s, awash with banjos, mandolins, fiddles and Dobros. Producer T Bone Burnett, working with the Coens, has assembled some solid performers — Alison Krauss, the Soggy Bottom Boys and the Cox Family among them.

The album opens with "O Lazarus," a chain-gang chant punctuated by the sound of busting rock. The mood continues with Harry McClintock's "Big Rock Candy Mountain," a wistful tune about better places, whose popping and cracking make it sound like a well-worn vinyl record.

Individually, each song on "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" is a gem. Taken as a whole, the album is a gold mine of music from a bygone era. — Carol JohnsonSTACEY KENTLet Yourself Go: Celebrating Fred Astaire (Candid Records)

Comparisons can be odious, we know, but the title of a CD by sultry songsmith Stacey Kent makes them impossible to resist. When listening to this CD, which indulges in some fancy vocal maneuvering equivalent in many ways to the graceful footwork of the late dancing master, I couldn't help thinking of other interpreters of romantic songs, such as Anita O'Day, Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald and Andrea Marcovici, a contemporary. The American-born Miss Kent is London-based, so it's more apt to mention the name of Cleo Laine, the Britisher who has made her reputation in clubs of note on both sides of the ocean.

To imagine translating Mr. Astaire's smooth, sophisticated dance steps into aural images is no great leap. The choice of classic American popular tunes by masters such as George Gershwin and Jerome Kern makes it easy. The title song, by Irving Berlin, leads off suggestively enough. The lyrics set the theme by inviting a listener to dance and "forget your woe."

Miss Kent knows her subject well and has a style suitable for bringing out the best in these beloved melodies. Her crystal-clear enunciation alone is a revelation. With this album, her third in three years, she helps give jazz a good name. — Ann GeracimosCLINTON JAMESDream About It(Last Breath Music)

Newcomer Clinton James, from Crofton, Md., makes an admirable debut with his band of the same name on "Dream About It," a two-song collection that blends 1970s rock influences with a touch of country. The upbeat "Everything" speeds along with an optimistic message of not taking life for granted, and the more mellow "Dream About It" uses a train as a metaphor for life.

Although the lyrics are not groundbreakingly original — "Love is all around/Love is always close" from "Everything" showcases the sometimes cliched song writing — the vocal talents of Mr. James make the single stand out. — Derek Simmonsen

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