Writer-director Maggie Greenwald’s Songcatcher takes the movies’ search for folkie authenticity way back, past the proto-bluegrass gathered by T Bone Burnett for O Brother, Where Art Thou?, past the original field recordings made by Alan and John Lomax or Harry Smith, back up deep into the Appalachians at the turn of the last century. It’s there that musicologist Lily Penleric (Janet McTeer, playing a character inspired by Olive Dame Campbell) arrives and determines to preserve, via sheet music transciptions and primitive phonograph recordings , the folk songs that pour out of the locals as easily as breathing.
Naturally, there’s a lot of suspicion and hostility and questions of cultural appropriation that arise, but the imposing McTeer displays her own pioneer spirit that proves as formidable as that of the mountain people. Performing the songs are the film’s cast (including actress Emmy Rossum and singer Iris DeMent) as well as some high-profile ringers, including Rosanne Cash, Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, Gillian Welch, Maria McKee, and Patty Loveless.
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