“I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow” acts as something of a theme song in the film O Brother, Where Art Thou?. It reflects the dissatisfaction that drives the Homer-inspired hero on his odyssey, and it’s the song that launches the quixotic career of the fictional Soggy Bottom Boys. This classic American folk song has antecedents that trace back over 200 years. According to John Garst, writing in the 2002 Country Music Annual (University of Kentucky Press), the earliest published precursor is an 1846 hymn called “Tender Hearted Christian.”
The seminal recorded version of “I’m a Man of Constant Sorrow” was made by Kentuckian Emry Arthur in 1928. Close variations have been recorded by Bob Dylan, the Stanley Brothers, Tony Furtado, Jerry Garcia, and many others.
This solo-acoustic-guitar-with-voice take, one of four versions on the Grammy-winning O Brother soundtrack [including an instrumental by guitarist Norman Blake —Ed.], is more modern than any strict 1930s reading of the song would have been. The dropped-D drone and pentatonic licks give it a tipsy Celtic edge as well as Mississippi Delta soul.
Due to copyright restrictions, we are unable to post notation or tablature for this musical work. If you have a digital or physical copy of the September/October 2020 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine, you will find the music on page 82.
This article originally appeared in the September 2002 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine and was reprinted in the September/October 2020 issue.
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