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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
I am not a hard core Motown fan, but I have to give this film a 10, because it's the best music documentary I have seen. With just the right mix of interview footage, historical photos, and live performance, STANDING IN THE SHADOWS OF MOTOWN takes its place alongside THE LAST WALTZ as a cinematic cornerstone of music history.
Musicians will especially like some of the technical discussions, such as details about how legendary bassist James Jamerson produced his famous groove.
The live musical performances are inspired, with modern singers covering Motown classics, accompanied by the Funk Brothers themselves. I have watched the DVD of this film, and more recently, the high-definition version on ShowtimeHD. The 5.1 soundtrack is impeccably mixed. You can hear every instrument clearly, but the vocalist is not drowned out. With this type of mix, you want to listen to your favorite numbers over and over, concentrating on a different part each time. And, you can rest assured that there is no lip syncing or studio overdubbing. This is real music for real people.
All of the vocalists are superb, creatively interpreting each song, while at the same time paying respect to the style of the original recording artists. Viewers will have their own favorite performers, but mine is Joan Osborne, whose powerful rendition of "What Becomes of the Brokenhearted" brought tears to my eyes.
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