Taking leave from an elite Eastern college after she's passed over for a promotion, esteemed musicologist Dr. Lily Penleric (McTeer) joins her sister Elna (Adams), a schoolteacher in the bucolic Appalachian Mountains. An awkward presence at first, Lily soon discovers a rich, unvarnished musical culture with ties to the Scottish and English folk ballads she specializes in, and sets out to travel the impoverished area, recording songs.
A small film filled with unexpected delights, Maggie Greenwald's "Songcatcher" deals with culture clash (North/South, urban/rural) and the fading of traditional folkways, but concentrates mostly on the ruggedly beautiful backwoods music. McTeer is wonderful as the steely, driven Easterner who falls for a prideful local musician (Quinn), and the rest of the cast — including newcomer/vocalist Emmy Rossum — is terrific as well. Stunning scenery and hauntingly pure, old-time music round out this warm, tuneful tale. Catch this sleeper.