A documentary that celebrates Rick Hall, the founder of FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, and the signature sound he developed in songs such as "I'll Take You There", "Brown Sugar", and "When a Man Loves a Woman".
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Located alongside the Tennessee River, Muscle Shoals, Alabama is the unlikely breeding ground for some of America's most creative and defiant music. Under the spiritual influence of the 'Singing River' as Native Americans called it, the music of Muscle Shoals changed the world and sold millions upon millions of copies. At its heart is Rick Hall who founded FAME Studios. Overcoming crushing poverty and staggering tragedies, he brought black and white together in Alabama's cauldron of racial hostility to create music for the generations while giving birth to the 'Muscle Shoals Sound' and 'The Swampers'. Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Percy Sledge, Gregg Allman, Clarence Carter, Etta James, Alicia Keys, Bono, and others bear witness to Muscle Shoals' magnetism, mystery, and why it remains influential today. Written by
Of the several recent documentaries made about singers, musicians and producers of rhythm and blues, this 2013 production and the Pennebaker-Hegedus film, "Only the Strong Survive", are probably the best. Musically "Standing in the Shadows of Motown" has no equal, for it was conceived as a concert film, a record of a historical reunion of Detroit's jazz musicians known as The Funk Brothers, with guest appearances from great contemporary vocalists, all recorded with care; while "Twenty Feet from Stardom" is surely the weakest, a lost opportunity to make an outstanding documentary, starring some of the best background vocalists of yesterday (and a few from the present), due to an average approach, like an extended television report. Not that "Muscle Shoals" and "Only the Strong Survive" are cinematic masterpieces, but both cover controversial facts surrounding some of their subjects, including producer Rick Hall in the first case, or Sam Moore in the second. Their personalities and stories lift these works from the common place, and help to make them very fine achievements. Hall is indeed a very complex man, from his childhood in poverty, living in the wilderness, to his success as owner of Fame recording studio in Muscle Shoals, the city where Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Etta James and many others recorded hits. He omits nothing, revealing dark details from his family and work, and even making reflections about himself that reveal how the shortcomings and rejections he faced led him to achieve success. Due to the format there is fantastic R&B and rock and roll music that unfortunately is not enjoyed in its fullness (from Aretha to Duane Allman, among the many artists that recorded in Muscle Shoals), and very little live, new material, as the outstanding performance by Alicia Keys, several of the original session musicians and a gospel choir. But these are little complaints compared to the joy of seeing at last, a work on the fantastic music produced in those small recording studios in Alabama, and the group known as The Swampers. Don't miss it.
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