As award season reaches fruition in the next few weeks, movie, television and music fans are scrambling to preview as many nominated films, shows and songs as humanly possible. Mega-talented musician and actor Justin Timberlake is no newcomer to award season. In fact, Timberlake has won over 50 awards throughout his lucrative career.
However, his most recent nomination for the soundtrack of the critically acclaimed film “Inside Llewyn Davis” is quite different from his comfort zone of pop, rap and R&B.
Instead, his song “Please Mr. Kennedy,” a collaboration between Timberlake and actors Oscar Isaac and Adam Driver, reflects the age of social reform and protests that were prevalent during the 1960s.
“Please Mr. Kennedy” is the only song on the album that is rewritten and not originally from that era, according to director Ethan Coen. The track is both catchy and entertaining, with comedic quips such as “Uh-oh!” and “Outer space!” chanted by Driver in his distinctive baritone. It focuses on a man who simply does not want to travel to outer space, pleading with President Kennedy, saying, “Please Mr. Kennedy / I don’t wanna go.”
The album, released in November, exemplifies the folk music scene in America during the swinging ‘60s. Along with “Please Mr. Kennedy,” Timberlake also joins forces with actress Carey Mulligan and actor Stark Sands in the hauntingly beautiful harmonization in the track “Five Hundred Miles.”
The soothing twang of violins and guitar intertwine to create a timeless song about being too ashamed to return home after failure, as Timberlake, Mulligan and Sands croon, “If you missed the train I’m on / You will know that I am gone / You can hear the whistle blow a hundred miles.”
Isaac, a breakthrough actor who has appeared in films ranging from “Robin Hood” to “The Bourne Legacy,” proves his singing abilities in several songs on the soundtrack. “Fare Thee Well,” a bluesy, heartbreaking goodbye to a lover, and “Green, Green Rocky Road,” a tribute to one of folk music’s greatest artists, Dave Van Ronk, both display Isaac’s versatility.
Isaac also collaborates with Chris Thile, Chris Eldridge, Marcus Mumford, Gabe Witcher and Timberlake in an a capella prison song originally written by Dominic Behan. The track, “The Auld Triangle,” displays the purity of the singers’ voices.
The film is said to be inspired by Van Ronk’s life, which explains the selection of songs from various genres including folk, blues and a hint of country. However, the album leaves listeners longing for more versatility.
It displays much of the typical folk and country sounds, but it falls flat in the diversity department. Add a few touches of Van Ronk’s well-known gospel, swing or even New Orleans jazz compilations, and the soundtrack would have been more diverse.
The album seamlessly combines music from folk singers of the ‘60s and harmonized ballads of contemporary music. While “Inside Llewyn Davis” does not have pounding bass or bumping beats (in other words, do not expect to hear Oscar Isaac’s voice blaring over the speakers in Cleveland’s hottest clubs), it highlights one of the most tumultuous times in America in the past century.
The “Inside Llewyn Davis” soundtrack provides an opportunity for music lovers to indulge in tunes from the past while still enjoying contemporary voices like Timberlake and Mumford.