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In 1959, Berry Gordy Jr. gathered the best musicians from Detroit's thriving jazz and blues scene to begin cutting songs for his new record company. Over a fourteen year period they were the heartbeat on every hit from Motown's Detroit era. By the end of their phenomenal run, this unheralded group of musicians had played on more number ones hits than the Beach Boys, the Rolling Stones, Elvis and the Beatles combined - which makes them the greatest hit machine in the history of popular music. They called themselves the Funk Brothers. Forty-one years after they played their first note on a Motown record and three decades since they were all together, the Funk Brothers reunited back in Detroit to play their music and tell their unforgettable story, with the help of archival footage, still photos, narration, interviews, re-creation scenes, 20 Motown master tracks, and twelve new live performances of Motown classics with the Brothers backing up contemporary performers. Written by
Standing in the Shadows of Motown is a terrific documentary that gives us a wonderful introduction to The Funk Brothers, the musicians behind the hits at Motown. This is their story, therefore little time is devoted to Barry Gordy or the label's stars. The Brothers emerge as engaging personalities in their own right - it's a pleasure to listen to them tell their tales of life in "the Snake Pit" (the studio) at Motown.
Even more a pleasure is listening to them play and hearing new interpretations of some of the great old tunes. Especially, for me, Bootsy Collins on "Cool Jerk" (Bootsy puts the "fun" in "funk") and Joan Osborne on "Heat Wave" (the Brothers really groove on this one) and "What becomes of the Broken Hearted" - a stirring rendition that raises the roof and brings down the house! Great stuff. A few of the other new performances are not quite as strong as this, but overall the music is just great. The old guys have still got it. I really loved hearing little bits of their jazz playing sprinkled throughout the movie - in fact I'd like to have heard more of this, but of course there are time constraints in any film. It was also great to hear some of the arrangements broken down to (or built up from) individual parts. It brings home the fact that these guys are really creative players (try to imagine "My Girl" without the "dum da da da da da" guitar lick, for example).
I already knew a bit about James Jamerson, the genius bass player for Motown, before watching this movie, but meeitng the rest of these great players and hearing their stories was just a pure pleasure straight through. Good to see these guys getting their props - they are The Funk Brothers!
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