Music, it is often said, is the universal language. It is a language that bridges cultures and transcends generations. Even with audiences’ varying tastes music still does more to bring together the world’s people than any politician could ever do. That includes not just American politicians but politicians in general. That has been proven time and again throughout the music industry’s rich history. It has helped make some of America’s best moments even better. It has also helped the country get through some of its most trying times. That ability to get America through its best and worst times shows its immense power. In 2014 director Martin Shore presented audiences with just one example of that power in the documentary Take Me To The River. The roughly hour and a half documentary follows the collaboration of a number of legendary Memphis musicians and modern artists in the creation of a new album that resurrects the songs of said legends. While that presentation lies at the heart of the documentary it is just one aspect of the program’s story. There is far more to the documentary than that process. And thanks to Shout! Factory, audiences will get to see just how much more there is to the story when Take Me To The River will finally be released in stores and online next week. That story is just one part of what makes the documentary worth the watch, too. The music that audiences get to hear throughout the course of the documentary is just as important to the program as its multi-faceted main presentation. Rounding out the documentary’s presentation is its bonus interviews and recording session featuring the recording of ‘Be Like Me’ with The Bar-Kays and rap duo 8Ball and MJG. Each element plays its own important role in the whole of Take Me To The River. Altogether, they make it a documentary that even not being new per se, still hits all the right notes at all the right times from beginning to end even almost two years after its original debut.
Nearly two years after its theatrical debut, director Martin Shore’s music documentary Take Me To The River is finally coming home. Why it took so long for it to finally be released on DVD and Blu-ray is anybody’s guess. Regardless of why it took so long, it can still be said that it is a welcome “new” release for music lovers even if audiences were not lucky enough to see it in its original theatrical release. This is proven primarily through the program’s multi-faceted main story. At the heart of that story is the recording process for an album that was meant to celebrate the relationship between some of Memphis’ most legendary performers and the artists who were influenced by those legends. Audiences will be interested to see the broad spectrum of acts that were influenced by the Memphis music scene of days gone by. On a related note, the respect shared between the two groups exhibited in the recording process is just as impressive. Of course that portion of the program’s main story is just one part of its whole. Along with that story Shore also presents the story of Stax Record, which was based in Memphis and its role in not just the Memphis music scene but in the nation’s history in whole. That story is the real story. Viewers learn about the founding of Stax and how its founding was influenced by the racial tensions of the day. Despite said tensions, it became a refuge of sorts; a place where artists white and black alike could record their music together. And as is revealed in the extended interview with Snoop Dogg and William Bell, it was much more than that. It played just as much of a role in the music industry at the time as it did in the nation’s culture and history. There is even a lesson on the artists that made Stax so great then and still does today as the recording process for the album proceeds. Audiences get to learn about William Bell, Bobby “Blue” Bland, Booker T, Charlie Musselwhite, and a number of other legends of the Memphis music scene. The combined music history lessons and recording documentary that are presented within the main presentation of Take Me To The River show clearly together why the program’s central story is key to its overall presentation.
The multi-faceted story that lies at the center of Take Me To The River shows in itself quite clearly how this documentary hits all the right notes at all the right times. Of course it is just one element within the program’s presentation that proves this argument. The songs that are featured throughout the recording process are just as important to note as the story of the process of their recording. The songs–twelve in all–are classic pieces that have been re-worked with a modern touch. One of the best of the featured songs is ‘Ain’t No Sunshine.’ The song featured Memphis legend Bobby “Blue” Bland teaming up with rapper Yo Gotti for a piece that is one of the recording’s best numbers. Bland’s gentle chorus works with Yo Gotti’s verses and the song’s solid, infectious hip-hop style backbeat to make it a song that gives the classic tune a welcome update. ‘Wish I Had Answered’ is another great number. Audiences will find themselves tapping their feet in time as legendary singer Mavis Staples and North Mississippi All Stars work their magic in this bluesy/gospel hybrid. ‘If I Should Have Bad Luck’ is another impressive and enjoyable song that audiences get to see come to life. Charlie Musselwhite’s vocal delivery and harmonica work are the song’s magic elements. It’s just one more example of how the songs featured in the documentary make it more enjoyable in whole. It’s not the last example of the song’s importance to the documentary either. Any of the recording’s dozen tracks could just as easily be cited as examples of what makes th songs their own important element of the documentary. The songs, when coupled with the documentary’s central story, make even clearer why Take Me To The River hits all the right notes. They still are only a portion of what makes the program such a worthwhile watch. The bonus interviews that are included with the program give it even more interest.
The story at the center of Take Me To The River and the program’s featured songs are both equally important elements in its success. That is because together they tell a deep and engaging story that any music history buff will enjoy. For all of the importance of the program’s story and its featured songs those elements are but a portion of what makes it worth the watch. The bonus interviews that are included with the presentation round out the documentary. Audiences will be interested to learn how Al Bell came to write the hit song ‘I’ll Take You There.’ Even as Mr. Bell doesn’t allow himself to become choked up in telling the story, the same cant’ be said of audiences. That is especially the case as he notes that he “didn’t write the song, but that it wrote through him.” He explains in full depth to narrator/interviewer Terrance Howard (Hustle & Flow, Iron Man, Red Tails) how the violence of the era played a direct role in the song’s creation. That is the extent of what will be told here so as to not ruin the story for others. Needless to say th full story is truly moving and enlightening. On a related note, the interview with Snoop Dogg and William Bell is just as interesting. The pair’s discussion runs th gamut from the serious to the silly throughout. One of the most interesting discussions shared in this interview is the comparison of Stax Records to Motown. Snoop, whose real name is Calvin Broadus, and Bell discuss how Motown wrote songs more for the masses while acts signed to Stax made music more for the people so to speak. They weren’t trying to make money in other words. They just wanted to get their songs out there and share the struggles that everyone felt through their songs. Snoop Dogg’s affirmation of the importance of Stax both to itself and the culture in which it was founded and to the modern hip-hop industry is believable. He really sounds serious about its importance. At a later point in the interview, Bell and Broadus change gears and start talking about DJs and Soul Train of all things. It was completely off th topic. But it was also so natural in the bigger picture of things. And it is hardly the last of th discussions shared between th pair in its interview. There is far more for audiences to take in here. And audiences that purchase the program for themselves will discover just how entertaining and informative those other noted topics are. They will also agree in discovering this that the bonus interviews included alongside the central story of Take Me To The River and its featured songs round out the presentation, making it a presentation in whole that once again hits all the right notes at all of the right times.
Shout! Factory’s new home release of Take Me To The River is a presentation that hits all of the right notes at all of the right times. This is the case even with the documentary having originally debuted in theaters nearly two years ago. That is thanks in large part to its multi-faceted story. The program’s featured songs present their own interesting music history lesson. That lesson and the lesson taught in the program’s central story double up to show clearly why Take Me To The River hits all of the right notes at the right times. The bonus interviews included as part of the documentary’s home release round out the program. The background and bonus information that thy share rounds out the program and shows once and for all that while this documentary may not be new per se, it is still a piece that hits all of the right notes at all of the right times. Take Me To The River will be available next Tuesday, February 5th in stores and online. It can be re-ordered online now direct via Shout! Factory’s online store at https://www.shoutfactory.com/film/documentary/take-me-to-the-river. More information on this and other titles from Shout! Factory is available online now at:
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