A Man of Constant Sorrow - Deep Dive

When Diane and I set out to record some songs for the trip, this song seemed obvious.  We were going to stop at “the cross roads” in Clarksdale, MS and I think both of us know this song from the movie, O Brother Where Art Thou? The Robert Johnson myth/legand was which a prominent side story.  We stayed at this great little place – the Shack-Up Inn (https://www.shackupinn.com) – just a few miles from the actual cross roads where it is thought that Robert Johnson sold his sold to the devil to play guitar better.  

Anyhow – I wanted the song to build over time and chose to do this by layering instruments one on top of another.  I’ve described the music on this album as, “Try to imagine you were on the back porch or in the barn with a great guitarist or maybe even one of those awesome dueling piano guys – and they could play anything… and they were just playing and playing and eventually – after too many beers – people from the audience started joining in – there was a tambourine lying around, maybe a banjo, a couple guitars and it was just all great fun…  Then – you found out someone had recorded it all and you had a friend mix it down, but he discovered, only the audience members were recorded!”  – well – that’s how I view this album… Fun over function… spirit over talent! 

The opening riff gives way to a single guitar that carries the rhythm throughout the track. As the opening verse completes a few lines, you can hear a very small single note accent on the end of each line.  Still very subdued.

Into the first chorus, I used a mandolin pick on a 12 string to give it that fluttering effect.  Then using that same method picked the notes for the second verse.

Having never played the violin before, but purchasing one for my daughter 10 years earlier for her to use in 6th grade band, one would think I wouldn’t attempt to play this fine instrument.  Well – they’d be wrong – inspired by Rick Danko playing “Old Time Religion” in The Last Waltz, I thought, “why not?” – and just like Charlie Daniels, I rosined up my bow and gave it a shot.  Almost everything you hear is a “first take” – “fix it in the mix” (Midnight Star) – so – long story short – here’s a violin going into the third verse… buried please!

Next verse, next layer: the harmonica… Also not an instrument I’ve done much work with – but offering a similar sidecar note to the violin (should it be fiddle in this music? sure… why not?)… kind of hovering over the mess of guitars… 

Last verse – break out the banjo – never played one before – bought it for this session – $40 on facebook marketplace (six string at that – “hey – we can all play the banjo now!”) – the action was so high I generally just picked it – it almost sounds like a weird piano thing.

But – at the end – there’s definitely a lot going on – layers of noise – always joyful! – trying to match Diane’s vocal (also first takes!) – she ends with a very cute, “woohoo” – not sure if that was because the song finally ended – at 4:13, it clocks in at almost twice the average of the other songs.