The soundtrack to a film about a woman music scholar's travels in Appalachia is largely devoted to contemporary versions of traditional folk songs by an impressive roster of female vocalists. Rosanne Cash, Emmylou Harris, Maria McKee, Dolly Parton (dueting with Emmy Rossum), Gillian Welch, Iris DeMent, and Patty Loveless are the big names here, though there are a few lesser-known singers like Julie Miller, Deanna Carter, and Sara Evans. While the interpretations are not scintillating and not the best versions of the songs you could possibly find, they're well done and make for a consistent listen, particularly by various-artist soundtrack standards. Occasionally the performers shine, as Rosanne Cash does on her cover of "Fair and Tender Ladies," Maria McKee on "Wayfarin' Stranger," and Emmylou Harris on "Barbara Allen." This isn't, by the way, always trying to re-create Appalachian music as it might have sounded in the early 20th century, as Cash's "Fair and Tender Ladies" and Carter's "The Cuckoo Bird," to use two of the better examples, have fairly full and rhythmic arrangements. For those who want the stark sound, DeMent's "Pretty Saro" is backed only by David Mansfield's fiddle, and Rossum sings a brief "Barbara Allen" unaccompanied (Hazel Dickens also does her snatch of "Conversation With Death" unaccompanied). Two snatches of David Mansfield's orchestrated film score are also included, and are unnecessary distractions. In the time-honored manner of contemporary updates of traditional material, this will serve the purpose of leading some listeners into a world they don't know much about, and as such projects go, it's more credible and successful than most.
AllMusic Review by Richie Unterberger