Artist – Stark Sands and the Punch Brothers (originally written and sung by Tom Paxton)
Album – Inside Llewyn Davis (Original Soundtrack Recording)
Year – 2013
Genre – Folk
Movies that center around music are usually a tricky thing to master in terms of a truly great soundtrack. These films usually tend to have mediocre soundtracks that seem to be forgettable. However, the Coen Brothers are one one team that know how to craft wonderful films and downright astounding soundtracks. Their soundtrack to “Oh Brother Where Art Thou?” was one of the most lauded soundtracks in history, and is almost singlehandedly responsible for bringing bluegrass back into the modern ear. With the soundtrack to “Inside Llewyn Davis,” the Coens are attempting the same feat, only with the folk renaissance of the 1960’s. The result is one of the best soundtracks I’ve heard for some time, and “The Last Thing on My Mind” is the crown jewel.
Originally by Tom Paxton, this song catches your ear immediately. The guitar is rich and deep, and the chord progression is one we all know, but one that’s beautiful all the same. The finger picked intro that leads into strumming is a nice choice, and shows off the nature of what’s to come. Despite the natural tendency towards rough voices in the folk movement, a clean and emotive voice like the voice of Broadway star Stark Sands absolutely is what a song like this needs. He sings in the vein of a singer like John Denver, with a straight voice that just curves around every note so perfectly.
From the moment Sands begins, his voice just reverberates through your head. The sorrowful and lonely melody is handled amazingly by his style. The lows are rich, and the highs are passionate. It’s an emotional roller coaster to listen to, but his voice is so crystal clear that he gives you shivers. That’s what Broadway training gives back I suppose!
If you think the verses sound great, then just wait until the chorus. Sands will knock you flat on you ass with how well he brings the emotion of the song out in his voice. Also, this is a good time to mention the instrumentation of the whole song. The Punch Brothers, led by mandolin whiz Chris Thile, provide the bluegrass/folk band backing. The singing is good, but when you combine it with fiddle, mandolin, string bass, banjo, and that oh so sweet guitar, you have astronomically good results.
Let’s talk about Paxton’s lyrics for a bit. The woeful verses perfectly capture the nature of a lost love, albeit in that way that only folk writing can accomplish. It’s that raw lamenting way that captivates you, and it perfectly shows the nature of a man in shock and pain after realizing his mistakes. He yearns for the one he loves, and you can feel it in the words, the music, and especially in Sands’ voice. Then there’s this chorus, which takes the writing factor to new heights:
Are you going away with no word of farewell
Will there be not a trace left behind
Well, I could’ve loved you better, I didn’t mean to be unkind
You know that was the last thing on my mind
It’s a man at his most vulnerable. A man who knows what he’s done wrong, but who is still kind at heart and who would give his soul, his life to have those moments back. It’s chill inducing, and though it’s an older song, it’s a song that still touches me when I hear words like that. Cherish love with every ounce of kindness in you, or one day it’ll be gone with “not a trace left behind.”
I’m kind of obsessed with this song right now, and I hope after hearing it you are too. It’s simply a beautiful cover and one that takes the message and sound of the original and does exactly what the Coen Brothers intended; brings it to the modern ear with a fresh sound so that folk music can be appreciated once again.
Thanks for listening, as always. Be sure to leave a comment on what you think!