Monday, September 29, 2014

Muscle Shoals

Clocking in at 111 minutes, the documentary Muscle Shoals is a good 20 minutes too long. The story of how a little Alabama backwater became a soul and pop recording Mecca is compelling, but whether out of completism or a misplaced desire to appeal to the "young folks"(?!) the filmmakers add way too much footage of Lynyrd Skynyrd and Stevie Winwood and Bono. So unless you really dig "Sweet Home Alabama," you can fast-forward after the Stones roll through town.

Highlights: Rick Hall, the taciturn, embittered protagonist, who through pure grit, racial tolerance, and exquisite taste rose from poverty and repeated personal tragedy to record some of the most fantastic, soulful music ever made; the Swampers, the local white dudes Hall recruited to become the studio musicians behind funky soul classics like "Land of 1000 Dances" and "I Never Loved a Man," and who then betrayed their mentor and muse by striking out on their own to produce many more great records in their own studio; Keith Richards, the erstwhile guitarist and substance abuser who is never less than riveting on screen, if utterly ridiculous at the same time; the incredible beauty of the Tennessee River; and of course the Muscle Shoals sound.

Did I mention Aretha? The story behind "I Never Loved a Man"– especially Spooner Oldham's spine-tingling intro on the Wurlitzer electric piano– seems too good to be true, but so good it almost has to be true. She blows everyone away.

What was it about little Muscle Shoals? The movie half-heartedly tilts toward a woo-woo explanation drawing on Native American legends about the song of the river. One might as well say the stars aligned... and I suppose they did, when these talented and ambitious small-town white boys figured out how to bring out the very best in the greatest African-American artists of their generation.

No comments:

Post a Comment