There’s a huge community, several million strong, of O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack owners who never saw the film — not that there’s anything wrong with that. These folks don’t know the brothers Coen from The Brothers Karamazov, but still, they need the music. Craving another dose, some of them will buy Divine Secrets, T Bone Burnett’s first soundtrack on his newly minted DMZ label — and they’ll walk away a little disappointed.
By normal soundtrack standards, this is a decent compilation. The new songs, such as Bob Dylan’s noisy “Waiting for You,” Lauryn Hill’s “Selah” (not part of her recent Unplugged collection) and the weird Jimmy-Scott-goes-electronic sprawl of Vincent and Mr. Green’s “Drug State” are worth the price of admission, outshining Burnett’s specialty stunt of pairing contemporary artists with vintage tunes. He trusts Taj Mahal with Fats Waller’s “Keepin’ Out of Mischief Now” and pushes Macy Gray toward Billie Holiday’s “I Want to Be Your Mother’s Son-in-Law,” but both singers, generally masterful stylists, end up sounding like … well, good vocalists covering some old stuff. The restored gems here, including Slim Harpo’s “I Got Love if You Want It,” Mahalia Jackson’s “Walk in Jerusalem” and even Richard and Linda Thompson’s “Dimming of the Day” are wonderful, but they were better in their original contexts. Even three songs from neglected bluesman Jimmy Reed (reprising Ralph Stanley’s underappreciated-genius role) don’t put this collection over the top. Burnett still deserves props for using film music to turn people on to the past, but this time, his creation isn’t phenomenon-worthy.