"Jesus, I'll never forget what you've done for me/You've set my soul free/I'll never forget how you've brought me out/No, no, I'll never forget"
— from "Jesus I'll Never Forget," performed by The Soul Stirrers
In the same tradition of the much–heralded O Brother Where Art Thou? soundtrack and the more recent score and soundtrack to Cold Mountain, the talented T–Bone Burnett took on the atypical task of producing and compiling the soundtrack to The Ladykillers, the Coen Brothers' modern retelling of the obscure 1955 comedy. I say "atypical" because Burnett's previous projects have utilized Americana and bluegrass as backdrops to the films they're associated with, while The Ladykillers is a surprisingly cohesive fusion of hand–clappin' traditional gospel, southern gospel, and even hip–hop—a first for Burnett.
But what ties the three soundtracks together is Burnett's proclivity for songs that highlight the sinful state of the human race and its chance at redemption. While some of the songs on The Ladykillers are originals, Burnett handpicked some gospel rarities from the '50s and '60s with a twofold purpose: to sample and rerecord them for proper big–screen assimilation in the 20th century, and to overtly capture the film's underlying theme: "We need to go back to God."
This theme infuses the whole album, from the opening "Come, Let Us Go Back to God" by gospel quartet The Soul Stirrers to the rousing "Yes" by the Abbot Kinney Lighthouse Choir. The former also gets a new—yet still quite reverent—treatment by Donnie McClurkin, who intones a vocal admonition to return to our Creator: "The earth is ablaze/The world is in a maze/…There's trouble in the air, and destruction is everywhere/And men being trampled beneath the sun/Damnation great and small, and now we've gone too far/Come, let us go back to God."
The thematic centerpiece of this project is culled from "Trouble of This World," a traditional tune by Bill Landford and the Landfordaires—the same group responsible for "Run On," later covered by Moby and the Blind Boys of Alabama. Burnett transforms it into a rousing choral rendition, as well as a hip–hop treatment commanded by Nappy Roots. All three versions share the same message of deliverance from this world: "There'll be no more weeping and wailing/I'm going home to live with God my Lord/I'll soon will be done with the trouble of this world."
In "Sinners," indie trio Little Brother offers the strongest of the hip–hop performances, focusing not on the love of mammon (the principle sin of the movie characters), but pleading with the Father about their problem with lust: "God deliver us, God forgive us/We're all hustlers and thieves, we're all sinners/We're all wandering souls with lost spirits/We're all praying to heaven/Can y'all hear us?" Interestingly, this song contains a sample of Claude Jeter and The Swan Silvertones' "A Christian's Plea" (also featured on the soundtrack), a song that approaches God with a similar request, but in a less contemporary context.
If you like Burnett's work on previous soundtracks, you'll find much to enjoy on The Ladykillers. Some of the rap selections might take some by surprise, but the producer's seamless incorporation of samples and musical ideas render a cohesive whole. More importantly, the project makes a strong case—even more so than the film—about our despondent human nature and how much we need the freedom that only God can give.
Unless specified clearly, we are not implying whether this artist is or is not a Christian. The views expressed are simply the author's. For a more complete description of our Glimpses of God articles, click here.