Nashville, Tenn. Nearly two years after its release, the soundtrack of the "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" film continues to cause ripple effects in the music industry.
The Grammy-winning album of blues, mountain and other Americana music has sold more than 6 million copies and is still hovering on Billboard's chart of the Top 20 albums in the country.
Mercury Records in Nashville capitalized on the success of "O Brother" with its Lost Highway Records, which has issued critically acclaimed albums by alternative country acts Lucinda Williams, Ryan Adams and Tift Merritt. Producer T Bone Burnett and filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen are partners in the new DMZ Records label, and "O Brother" artists are touring the country this summer.
The second Down From the Mountain tour, which begins next Tuesday in Louisville, Ky., includes Ralph Stanley, Alison Krauss, The Whites, the Fairfield Four, Emmylou Harris and Patty Loveless. Forty-two dates are booked, with stops scheduled in Atlanta, Dallas, Chicago, Seattle and Los Angeles.
Kevin Lyman, president of Immortal Touring & Events, which organized the tour, says it's significant that some performers Rodney Crowell, Rosanne Cash and The Flatlanders among them are not on the "O Brother" soundtrack.
"In an overall soft market for the touring season, we're going to hold our own," Lyman said. "If we can keep the brand going and expose more artists, we can expand the genre a bit."
He plans to follow up with a Tribute to Ralph Stanley tour this fall.
"I just refer to these acts as punk rockers from Appalachia," Lyman said. "They're so hardworking and have been neglected by the broader audience. We're trying to expand beyond their core audience, and that's why they're working with us."
The first release from DMZ Records, launched in affiliation with Sony, is a self-titled album by the 75-year-old Stanley, who found a new audience when his voice was featured singing "O Death" in the "O Brother" film. The album debuted at No. 22 on Billboard's country album chart and entered the top 200 albums chart at No. 163.
DMZ also has released a Louisiana-inspired soundtrack for the "Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood" movie, and plans an album with a Civil War theme for the upcoming film adaptation of the best-selling novel "Cold Mountain."
Despite its success, the "O Brother" soundtrack has largely been overlooked by commercial radio, and Burnett said the increasingly consolidated music and radio industries are missing the mark.
"I think the idea is to try to create an environment where artists can be free to do what they do," Burnett said. "We had that with 'O Brother.' ... I want to make sure that we can offer that to other people, and I think it's unusual in show business in general."
Instead of Stanley's band, the Clinch Mountain Boys, DMZ used musicians who were featured on "O Brother," which results in a more contemplative sound, Burnett said.
"We were more careful," he said. "Bluegrass music has been marginalized to the point where there's so little money that it's impossible to really spend much time on it.
"We spent probably three or four weeks on this record, which is probably a modern bluegrass record. It's like Ralph Stanley with a string quartet. I wanted to record it very respectfully, as if it were that."
Stanley, who began his career with The Stanley Brothers 50 years ago, says the "O Brother" film "put this music out where millions could hear it, where it's never been heard before. I think that got a new audience, and a larger audience."