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Grammy of Constant Sorrow

by David Vest

Here’s what it has all come down to: a studio pick-up band of session players took home the Grammy for Album of the Year.

Granted, it was the Oh Brother, Where Art Thou soundtrack’s producer, T-Bone Burnett, who gave a bizarre speech in which he appeared to be accepting the award on behalf of James Joyce.

But it was a thrown-together group of bluegrass journeymen, genuine authentic no-namers, whose version of “Man of Constant Sorrow” really brought home the bacon for the album.

None of the musicians who performed music from the soundtrack was allowed to say a word. Emmylou Harris, Gillian Welch and Alison Kraus, whose brief number was infinitely sexier than the half-naked young divas from Moulin Rouge, stood silent, temporary no-namers.

Was Ralph Stanley even on the stage? The bluegrass legend, whose definitive recording of “Man of Constant Sorrow” was not used on the soundtrack, performed his acapella version of “O, Death,” a song usually associated with Dock Boggs, from a spotlighted position in the audience. Fortunately he was not made to wear a Ku Klux Klan sheet (his number is lip-synched by a Klansman in the movie). In fact, Dr. Stanley looked rather dashing in a tuxedo. For a moment everyone thought he was Tony Bennett or at least Rod Steiger.

Bob Dylan almost threw the evening into complete chaos by actually playing live rock and roll music, complete with blistering guitar solo (when was the last time anyone played a guitar solo on the Grammies? Was it Dylan in 1998? The brief noodling by The Edge that started this year’s show does not count).

I don’t know about you, but I could hear people screaming all through Dylan’s performance of “Cry A While” from Love and Theft. Yet TV showed none of the audience response, other than the briefest glimpse of the standing ovation he received before the show’s producers cut the applause off brutally in mid-clap to bring on the next presenters. The abrupt segway, coupled with an inept introduction (“What can I say? Here’s Bob Dylan”), seemed a tad on the shabby side for an artist of this stature.

Dylan, whose own recording of “Man of Constant Sorrow” appeared on his first album almost forty years ago, won a Grammy for Best Contemporary Folk Recording.

The Irish artist Enya, who has never recorded “Man of Constant Sorrow,” won for Best New Age Recording. Her CD, A Day Without Rain, was not nominated for Album of the Year. It should have been. This is an album that just lay there in the stores when it first came out, getting little air play. It built slowly, by word of mouth, until the single “Only Time” became a huge hit.

Enya is the ultimate stealth bomber. Since early 1989, when Watermark dethroned Roy Orbison’s Mystery Girl as the top-selling CD in the world, Enya has quietly sold over 10,000 CDs a day, according to her official web site. Other estimates run even higher.

David Vest writes the Rebel Angel column for CounterPunch. He is a poet and piano-player for the Pacific Northwest’s hottest blues band, The Cannonballs.

He can be reached at: davidvest@springmail.com

Visit his website at http://www.rebelangel.com

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DAVID VEST writes the Rebel Angel column for CounterPunch. He and his band, The Willing Victims, have just released a scorching new CD, Serve Me Right to Shuffle. His essay on Tammy Wynette is featured in CounterPunch’s new collection on art, music and sex, Serpents in the Garden.

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