Introduced by fellow Nashvillian Kacey Musgraves, the longtime musical partners donned matching embroidered Western suits to strum the song and harmonize in front of a starry night backdrop in Monument Valley. It was a minimalist performance, charmingly delivered as if around the campfire and not on the grand stage of the Oscars.
The theme to the Coen Brothers’ Western anthology The Ballad of Busters Scruggs, the song soundtracks a pivotal gun battle between Tim Blake Nelson’s titular gunfighter and the upstart “The Kid,” played by former Old Crow Medicine Show member Willie Watson. Nelson’s character tragically loses, and he and “The Kid” duet on the song as Scruggs is lifted into heaven.
Welch says the filmmaking brothers keenly understand the chemistry between Welch and Rawling, with whom they worked on 2000’s O Brother, Where Art Thou? They are also expert at dark comedy.
“That’s one of the great things about working with them — they totally understand the very, very close relationship between the darkness and the humor,” Welch told Rolling Stone in January, recalling the direction given to them by Joel Cohen. “Joel just said, ‘Here’s the specifics of it. They have to be able to sing it together. They have to be able to sing it once Tim has been shot and is dead and is floating up to heaven.’ This is a duet between singing cowboys, one of whom is dead.”
Welch and Rawlings released their own version of “When a Cowboy Trades His Spurs for Wings” earlier this month.