Various Artists

The Gift (Will), You can Count on Me (Artemis/E-Squared), O Brother, Where Art Thou? (Mercury)

It may even be authentic to gloss over an unknowable era, like the Depression, with an informed but no less dreamy nostalgia. But I somehow doubt that a thousand Ken Burnses let loose with millions of feet of film, all nipping and trimming like Edward Scissorhands, can say any more about those times than this handful of simple songs.

The disc, produced by T-Bone Burnett, is pretty and perfect and reminds us of a time when a man picked up a new 78 rpm disc every so often with the groceries, and the family listened to both sides until they knew the two songs by heart. O Brother features the Whites performing "Keep on the Sunny Side," Ralph Stanley's bone-chilling "O Death," Alison Krauss and Gillian Welch gliding through "I'll Fly Away" (put that on your sin wagon, Dixie Chicks), and three equally perfect versions of "I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow." The soundtrack also includes possibly the saddest song ever written (along with Hank's "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" and George Jones' "He Stopped Loving Her Today"), Governor Jimmie Davis' "You Are My Sunshine," executed with perfect up-tempo melancholy by Norman Blake.

In all, three very worthwhile collections that help recall, examine and define the very broad spectrum of country music.

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