Sunday, 7 July 2013

Muscle Shoals

"Now Muscle Shoals has got the Swampers 
And they've been known to pick a song or two 
Lord they get me off so much 
They pick me up when I'm feeling blue 
Now how about you?"
- Lynyrd Skynyrd

Chances are you've never heard of Muscle Shoals, Alabama. It is highly likely however, that you've heard of Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, and the Rolling Stones. All of these artists, and many, many others, recorded some of their most popular, successful and groundbreaking songs and albums at both Fame Studios and Muscle Shoals Sound Studios in Muscle Shoals. This beautifully shot documentary, named after the town, takes viewers on a journey through history, introducing us to the key players and a supporting cast of famous faces. 

Utilising, interviews, archive footage, photos, sound clips and some of the greatest music ever recorded, Muscle Shoals introduces us to the men who made the distinctive Muscle Shoals sound so sought after by artists of all genres. Heavily relying on the recollections and storytelling of Fame Studios  founder Rick Hall, the narrative weaves in elements of Native American history and legend amongst stories of drug taking, jam sessions, friendship and bitter rivalry. The film seeks to explore the concept that geography is somehow able to influence the quality of music it produces, something I find fascinating, especially as a resident of Perth, a city which has produced some of the most talented and successful Australian musicians of the last few decades.

While I found myself enthralled by the stories of legendary musicians and their experiences at Muscles Shoals, and often tapping my foot along to the music, I also found myself slightly frustrated at the use of modern musicians (such as Bono and Alicia Keyes) who had nothing to do with building the legend behind these studios. It felt like they were added gratuitously in some misguided and desperate attempt to engage with a younger audience. If this is the case I feel the filmmakers severely underestimated the appeal their story would have to music lovers of all ages. 

Apart from this small annoyance, and a feeling of slight repetitiveness, I found this documentary extremely enjoyable and have spent the morning researching more about the town of Muscle Shoals, the studios that made it famous and the artists who recorded there. I would highly recommended this film to anyone even remotely interested in music, its worth it for the soundtrack alone.


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