Monday, September 28, 2009
Deep Blues - A Musical Pilgrimage to the Crossroads 1993 (Avi)
Studio: Shout Factory
Sony Music Release Date: 07/22/2003
This superb documentary vividly illustrates the enduring vitality of country blues, an idiom that most mainstream music fans had presumed dead or, at best, preserved through more scholarly tributes when filmmaker Robert Mugge and veteran blues and rock writer Robert Palmer embarked on their 1990 odyssey into Mississippi delta country. What Arkansas native and former Memphis stalwart Palmer knew, and Mugge captured on film, was that the blues was not only alive but still intimately woven into the daily lives of rural blacks.
Palmer, a former rock musician and Memphis Blues Festival cofounder best known for his bylines in The New York Times and Rolling Stone, had already chronicled the saga of Southern blues in his seminal book that provides the film's title. He's an astute guide, and Mugge underlines this role by pairing him with British rocker Dave Stewart (Eurythmics), whose avid interest in the music makes him an effective foil.
The film's real triumph, however, rests in the team's success in capturing modern day blues survivors and inheritors playing in the bars, juke joints, and barns of delta country. Palmer, who had returned several years earlier to the delta to capture these artists for his scrappy Fat Possum label, introduces us to the now-amplified but still elemental blues of R.L. Burnside, the late Junior Kimbrough, Jessie Mae Hemphill, Roosevelt "Booba" Barnes, and other keepers of the faith. Mugge, whose profiles of Al Green, Sonny Rollins, and other musicians probed their cultural and artistic contexts with intelligence and sensitivity, captures both the music and the milieu in crisp color footage. Deep Blues thus triumphs as a testament to the blues' deep roots and an unintentional eulogy for Palmer, who would pass away in the mid-'90s just as the gut-bucket music of Burnside and Kimbrough served notice that the blues were alive and kicking.
By Sam Sutherland.
I've been a big fan of the work of the late great blues historian/folklorist, Robert Palmer, for sometime now. His book, DEEP BLUES, is generally regarded as the definitive reference on the Delta tradition... and rightly so (needless to say, if you don't have it... get it). What a treat to finally get a chance to meet the guy... albeit, on my TV screen.
In this eponymous documentary, Palmer assumes the role of the proverbial veteran "tour guide," casually offering us expert commentary, laced with entertaining anecdotes and served up with dry Southern wit. While we do hear and see a great deal of Palmer, the film never loses its main focus-- the blues and the musicians who keep this important element of American musical heritage alive and kicking. Each of the featured artists performs one or two songs in their entirety-- in sharp contrast to so many other music documentaries, which par down their musical selections to excerpted sound bites to make room for talk, talk and more talk.
Here we find everything from down-home guitars and mouth harps being played on farm house porches to full bands--influnced by the modern Chicago-style, yet still distinctly "Pure Delta"--playing in dark, smoke-filled juke joints. True to the blues tradition, the music is hot and sweaty. You can't watch this film and sit still--you gotta shake something. Highlights: cane fife player Napoleon Strickland (you can hear more of this wonderful pre-blues tradition on TRAVELING THROUGH THE JUNGLE: NEGRO FIFE AND DRUM MUSIC FROM THE DEEP SOUTH, an album on the TESTAMENT label, and several ARHOOLIE compilations); the totally stylin' Jessie Mae Hemphill (granddaughter of Blind Sid Hemphill, the pre-blues style fiddler/quills [panpipes] player documented in the Lomax field recordings); harp player Bud Spires telling a folktale about the devil, accompanied by Jack Owen's soulful guitar picking in the cranky, individualistic Bentonia style, popularized by the early bluesman, Skip James; and Lonnie Pitchford's intense singing as he accompanies himself on the diddley bow (a raised metal string nailed to the side of a house, which you pluck with a plectrum and note with a slide).
By Shlomo Pestcoe.
Renowned director Robert Mugge and music scholar Robert Palmer went deep in the Mississippi Delta to seek out the best blues acts in the country. From the juke joints of northern Mississippi, to the blues clubs of Greenville and Clarksdale, ... Full Descriptionto the porches and parlors of Bentonia and Lexington; great material by R.L. Burnside, Jessie Mae Hemphill, Junior Kimbrough, Big Jack Johnson, Lonnie Pitchford, Roosevelt "Booba" Barnes, Booker T. Laury, Dave Stewart (of the Eurythmics). Includes 30 minutes of outtakes & interviews, also 45 minutes of music-only tracks by Kimbrough, Frank Frost, Burnside, Barnes & Pitchford.
Director Mugge and Robert Palmer (not that Robert Palmer) travel deep into the Delta to find the best blues acts in the country. From juke joints to front porches, this intrepid pair go off to find some bluesmen and end up documenting a musical history of the land and some important regional performers.
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