Category Archives: Film/DVD

ARCADE FIRE – The Reflektor Tapes: A Film By Kahil Joseph

Title: ARCADE FIRE - The Reflektor Tapes

Director: Kahil Joseph

Release Date: February 24, 2017

www.eagle-rock.com

BY LEE ZIMMERMAN

Those only vaguely familiar with Arcade Fire and their proficiency for staying several steps ahead of the musical curve may not find further insight in this daring two disc documentary meant to showcase the band in concert and commentary.

Shot partially in black and white before segueing into color, the rapid scene switching, disjointed imaging, and schizophrenic cinematic set-ups all reinforce the unusual nature of their quirky indie pedigree. That leads less to accessibility and more towards a sense of general mayhem. As a backstage document it offers some opportunity for band members to speak candidly about the music and their involvement with the band, but the rapid shift from scene to scene compels the viewer to lean in order absorb all the sights and sounds. Disc two makes much more sense from a musical perspective, in that captures a complete concert and allows a continuous thread of music rather than simply a series of strange scenes that reflect an extreme psychedelic sensibility.

Given a sound that often verges on cosmic cacophony, that’s appropriate, but viewers might be best advised to become familiar the band’s song selection before subjecting themselves to a total sensory assault.

WATCH THE SON RISE: Big Star’s Third Live

“An emotional bond there.” (—Jody Stephens): A new concert documentary and accompanying live album document a key Big Star’s Third performance, bringing both catharsis and closure to a long grieving period that’s ultimately transformed into a celebration.

BY FRED MILLS, MICHAEL TOLAND & JOHN B. MOORE

It is, in a very real sense, a culmination. The new DVD/2CD release Thank You, Friends: Big Star’s Third Live… and More (Concord Bicyle Music), that is, and a culmination of many things—the trajectory of the troubled (at times near-mythic) third Big Star studio album, originally recorded in 1974 but not released until years after the band had splintered; the subsequent Third (aka Sister Lovers) revival as pushed by Alex Chilton acolytes of the Amerindie ‘80s underground, chief among them members and intimates of The dB’s, whose Chris Stamey had also worked with Chilton; an eventual reunion of Big Star in the ‘90s, with two members of the Posies drafted to bolster Chilton and drummer Jody Stephens in the absence of bassist Andy Hummel and late guitarist Chris Bell—a reunion that came to a tragic end in 2010 when Chilton passed away from a heart attack on the eve of the band performing in Austin at SXSW, thereby ensuring that no one would ever get to hear Chilton himself perform Third; and of course Stamey’s ambitious Big Star’s Third live project, initially mounted at the tail end of 2010 as a concert tribute to the memory of Chilton, and going on to be intermittently staged in numerous cities and countries over the course of the next six years, to much acclaim.

So Big Star’s Third Live brings with it a whiff of finality. Clearly I don’t mean that there won’t be any more artifacts excavated from the vaults; for example, as a recent, exhaustive nine-disc bootleg collection demonstrates, there are a number of tracks that remain officially unreleased, even though the diligent archivists at Omnivore have done some impressive vault-digging themselves as regards material from the Third era. Nor am I suggesting that there won’t be any more live performances of Third or tribute concerts or even potential get-togethers between Stephens and Posies Ken Stringfellow and Jon Auer; all that and more is far more likely than not to go down in the future.

No, by “finality” I mean closure for all of us, a means by which to collectively grieve and celebrate, even for those not able to attend one of the live shows. Channeling both those emotions for us, Third Live mainstays Stamey, Stephens, Mitch Easter and Mike Mills—along with string players and a slew of guest vocalists that have included, since 2010, everyone from Matthew Sweet, Robyn Hitchcock and the two Posies, to Stamey’s North Carolina collaborators Brett Harris, Skyler Gudasz (both pictured above), and Django Haskins—brought the music vividly alive at the appropriately named Alex Theatre, in Glendale, Calif., almost exactly one year ago (April 27, 2016), for the camera lenses of director Benno Nelson. As you’ll read below in our  tag-team review treatment, it’s a cathartic home-viewing and –listening experience for any fan of Chilton and Big Star—and, I should add, Chris Bell as well, as Stamey (pictured, below) was mindful to include—and sing, with a gorgeous, emphatic grace—Bell’s timeless “I Am The Cosmos” in the Third Live performances.

It’s particularly gratifying for those of us here at BLURT. We’ve covered Big Star scores of times in the past, of course, via obituaries for both Chilton and Andy Hummel; reviewing the Third reissue as well as the Keep an Eye on the Sky career overview box set; covering and photographing the live Third concerts; writing about Holly George-Warren’s exhaustive biography of Chilton; interviewing Drew DeNicola, director of the 2012 Big Star documentary Nothing Can Hurt Me; and more. But the band is perhaps closest to our hearts because of the personal connection we’ve forged over time. Not just as fans of the records—yours truly has had the pleasure of interviewing and writing about Big Star in the past, additionally hanging out with Chilton many years ago (he even played my old acoustic guitar for the MTV cameras once upon a time); our publisher Stephen Judge, who is good friends with Stephens, Auer and Stringfellow, was at SXSW that March of 2010 when the news of Chilton’s death broke and, like so many other fans, he attended the impromptu Chilton tribute that unfolded in Austin in the days that followed; and we also hosted our own little Big Star tribute concert a few years later, also in Austin at SXSW, at our annual day party, wherein Stephens, Stringfellow and Auer, along with several guest players and singers, did a set of the music we all love so deeply. Even more recently, our photographer Sadie Claire attended the special Third concert at the 2017 SXSW; you can view her photo gallery from the festival, including numerous BST shots, here.

As Stephens told Rolling Stone not long after Chilton died, “I can’t see us going out [now] as Big Star… But I would hate to compound the loss of Alex by saying, ‘That’s it’ for Ken and Jon, too. I can’t imagine not playing with them. There’s so much fun—but an emotional bond there too.”

And for us too, Jody. It’s been a long—though not unwarranted—grieving period, and I’m not ashamed to admit that I teared up again multiple times while watching the concert film.  Now, though, let’s celebrate. —Fred Mills, BLURT Editor

***

 Thank You, Friends: The CDs. You’d be hard pressed to find a band more beloved by fellow musicians and music writers while being wildly underrated by the record-buying public, than Memphis-based power pop band Big Star.

With a name that is savagely ironic, seeing as how none of their albums ever sold well on initial release—their debut was even called #1 Record!—and with the deaths of frontman Alex Chilton, guitarist Chris Bell and bassist Andy Hummel, drummer Jody Stephens is the only surviving founding member. In the decades since their three-record lifecycle from ’72-to-’78, the band has grown immensely in reputation, managing to become desert island album must-haves to many who now namecheck the band.

Given their place on the Mount Rushmore for fellow talented artists, Thank You, Friends come off more as a genuinely impressive love note to a favorite band rather than a cynical cash grab.

This two-CD set accompanying the concert documentary DVD includes a slew of Big Star fans, like members of Yo La Tengo, Wilco, R.E.M., Semisonic, the dB’s (notably Chris Stamey, the impetus behind the project) and Let’s Active, not to mention Robyn Hitchcock, joining Stephens on stage for an April 2016 show in Glendale, California, highlighting the band’s album Third/Sister Lovers. There are also some fantastic newcomers on the stage, like North Carolina’s Brett Harris and Skylar Gudasz, among others. The set also includes a handful of covers from the band’s first two records, like a beautiful take on “In the Street” and “September Gurls.” (Interestingly, the track sequence for the audio portion of the DVD/2CD package is a good bit different than the video, and it also includes “Back of a Car,” which does not appear on the DVD.)

Big Star may never have truly got the respect they deserved with the first go around, but Thank You, Friends is helping to right a few wrongs by bringing Big Star’s music to a broader audience. —John B. Moore, BLURT Senior Editor and Blogger

***

Thank You, Friends: The DVD. Though Big Star’s Third Live is no stranger to stages around the country, it’s still not a project seen by a whole lot of people. Thus the DVD portion of Thank You Friends affords many of us the first chance to see this mini-orchestra in action. And the band does not disappoint. No matter who is at the mic, whether relatively big stars (no pun intended) like R.E.M.’s Mike Mills and Robyn Hitchcock, cult favorites like the Old Ceremony’s Django Haskins and bandleaders Chris Stamey and Mitch Easter, or up-and-comers like Brett Harris and Skyler Gudasz, everyone lets their love of the material shine through.

There’s no doubt how much the music of Alex Chilton and Chris Bell means to them—it’s right there on each and every face. Singer/songwriter Dan Wilson—late of Semisonic and probably the wealthiest person on the stage, thanks to co-writing Adele’s “Someone Like You”—seems particularly moved to be there, putting aside fame and fortune to pay beautiful tribute with “Give Me Another Chance” and “The Ballad of El Goodo.” Even Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, who surprisingly looks like he’s out of his depth, still manages to inject, if not passion, as least conviction into “Kizza Me” and “When My Baby’s Beside Me.”

But some of the less well-known names are responsible for the best performances. Mills may have gotten “September Gurls,” surely Big Star’s most famous song, but Gudasz delivers an absolutely lovely “Thirteen,” while Haskins brings the perfect amount of tension to the intense “Holocaust.” Harris, whose old-fashioned singer/songwriter pop springs directly from the Big Star legacy, handles “Kanga Roo” with a perfect balance of passion and vulnerability, looking like he might explode at any moment, but never actually doing it. Gudasz and Harris also serve as utility players, providing extra instruments and a ton of harmony vocals alongside nearly everyone else. Continuity with the Chilton era comes from Posies Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow, who served in the revived Big Star in the ‘90s and ‘aughts, and original drummer Jody Stephens, who takes his turns in the spotlight (“Blue Moon” and “For You”) but otherwise stays with his drum kit, keeping perfect time on these songs he knows better than anyone.

With backdrops and lighting cues kept minimalist, the focus is purely on the performances, and that’s as it should be. Chilton and his band weren’t big on production numbers, and neither is this ensemble. So it’s only appropriate that, a few frankly inconsequential interviews aside, director Benno Nelson concentrates on capturing the music as it happens. No filter, no effects, nothing between the audience and this timeless rock music. —Michael Toland, BLURT Senior Editor & Blogger

***

Below, watch the official film trailer.

 

Incoming: Big Star’s Third Live CD/DVD

BS

Concert film will also be screened at SXSW.

By Blurt Staff

Thank You, Friends: Big Star’s Third Live … And More gets released on April 21 via Concord Bicycle Music. A 90-minute concert film that will also have its world premiere at the 2017 SXSW Film Festival in Austin, Texas, on March 16, it will be released as 2-CD/DVD or Blu-Ray combo pack, as well as a standalone, 2-CD album.

We’ve had quite a bit of coverage to date for the Chris Stamey-spearheaded Big Star’s Third project. You can check it out at the links below. For the released version, a core ensemble comprising Stamey, Big Star’s Jody Stephens, Mike Mills (R.E.M.), Mitch Easter (Let’s Active), and the Posies’ Ken Stringfellow and Jon Auer performed in April 2016 in Glendale, California. Directed by Benno Nelson of Yes Equals Yes, the film includes performances by Jeff Tweedy and Pat Sansone of Wilco, Ira Kaplan (Yo La Tengo), Robyn Hitchcock, Dan Wilson (Semisonic), Benmont Tench, Jessica Pratt, Brett Harris, Django Haskins, and Skylar Gudasz. Also on hand was a full chamber orchestra helmed by San Francisco’s acclaimed Kronos Quartet and conducted by Carl Marsh, who wrote the original orchestrations for Third/Sister Lovers.

 

Incidentally, in addition to the screening at SXSW, there will be a post-screening Q&A with Nelson, Jody Stephens, Mike Mills, Chris Stamey, Ken Stringfellow, and Skylar Gudasz. Then the next night, March 17, an orchestrated live concert by many of the core ensemble featured in Thank You, Friends will take place at the Central Presbyterian Church.

***

SISTERS, LOVERS, FRIENDS, BROTHERS… COMRADES: Big Star Third Live in Chicago (exclusive photo gallery)

Big Star Third Album Gets Choice L.A. Show (preview of the Thank You Friends concert that was filmed)

BIG STAR – Complete Third  (review of the Big Star box set)

 

 

 

A Fat Wreck: The Story of Fat Wreck Chords

Title: A Fat Wreck: The Story of Fat Wreck Chords

Director: Shaun Colón

Release Date: December 13, 2016

www.afatwreck.com

a-fat-wreck-2016-logo

The Upshot: What could have easily been little more than a 90-minute infomercial for a record company ends up being a pretty impressive look into one of the most influential indie punk labels.

BY JOHN B. MOORE

You kind of expect going into a documentary about a record label, produced by that label, that it’s going to be little more than a glorified advertisement; propaganda for punk rockers, in this case. And that’s sort of true, with this film about the Northern California punk label Fat Wreck Chords. But the only thing that you can really expect with the label co-founder Fat Mike is that nothing can really be expected.

Yes, a lot of time in this movie is spent praising the bands that have filled the label’s roster going back decades (NOFX, Rise Against, Lagwagon, No Use For A Name, among many, many others). And there are plenty of interviews with fellow rockers in bands like Bad Religion and The Vandals attesting to the fact that Mike was always a pretty determined punk, even as a young kid. But Fat Mike and the director of this doc leave plenty of time to talk about some of the labels criticisms as well, like the “Fat Wreck Sound” that many associate with its bands. The criticism is that many on the label started to adopt a cookie-cutter pop-punk sound thanks to the same producers and engineers many of the bands tended to favor. It’s this criticism in particular that seems to get under Fat Mike’s skin here the most. And while it would have been easy for the folks associated with this movie to gloss over it or take it out entirely, to their credit it’s here in all its awkward pauses and angry retorts.

There is also plenty of time in the doc devoted to the label’s Punk Voter movement launched by Fat Mike and the label in 2002, a failed effort to get young voters engaged in the political process to defeat George W. Bush in the 2004 election. Some of the more hardened anarchist punks mocked his efforts in trying to help Democrat John Kerry get elected, in particular, the Canadian band Propagandhi, who were on the Fat Wreck label at the time. Through interviews, the band talks about their disgust with the U.S. political systems and the label’s association with it at the time.

What could have easily been little more than a 90-minute infomercial for a record company ends up being a pretty impressive look into one of the most influential indie punk labels to come out of California, thanks to an unflinching look at it from the filmmakers.

 

 

Last of the Mississippi Jukes

Title: Last of the Mississippi Jukes

Director: Robert Mugge

Release Date: October 21, 2016

lastofthemississippijukes21

The Upshot: As much as a celebration as it is a eulogy: Though at times this documentary looks at the Mississippi blues scene grimly, you still feel grateful that director Robert Mugge at least took time to document that scene at its root. Even if it’s been fading for years, no true music lover will come away unmoved—and at times during the film, utterly exhilarated. Above: Mugge in the film with Irma Thomas and Morgan Freeman at the latter’s jukejoint.

BY JASON GROSS

In 2006, a Mississippi trip provided me with sumptuous culinary highlights but mixed musical highlights. The Howlin’ Wolf Blues Museum had opened the year before in West Point and the Blues Festival done in Wolf’s name provided a great tribute including his long-time guitarist, the late Hubert Sumlin. The Delta Blues Museum stood as a large expanded former freight depot in Clarksdale, with its doors open since ’99, and just down the road from Ground Zero, a blues club co-owned by actor Morgan Freeman, which started out only two years after that. Fitting that both places are also adjacent to the fabled crossroads when highways 61 and 49 meet. Unfortunately, both places were closed the days we visited so we made due with the 930 Blues Cafe in Jackson, a small suburban house that had comfort food and an older gent playing electric piano, as well as a stop at the Club Ebony in Indianola (purchased two years later by local legend B.B. King) which featured a band rehearsing ‘80s pop tunes- it didn’t necessarily feel down home in either place. But there was also plenty of mouth-watering, sauce-slathered barbecue there that any Northerner would kill for or weep in shame at the fake shit for passes for food above the Mason-Dixon Line.

A trip four years before that would have revealed another music landmark and cultural hub- the Subway Lounge in Jackson. Opened in ’66 by bandleader Jimmy King as a basement club in a black-owned hotel, Subway was a somewhat spiffier version of the blues clubs, aka juke joints, which featured local talent and all-night jams. It also a Souther stop for nationally-known R&B acts like James Brown and Jackie Wilson who would pass through (not to mention the Civil Rights Freedom Riders in the early ‘60s).

When director Robert Mugge (also responsible for 1991’s wonderful Deep Blues doc) showed up in 2002 to document the local scene, Subway was on its last legs while Ground Zero was just starting out. As such, his now-reissued 2003 documentary Last of the Mississippi Jukes is as much as a celebration as it is a eulogy. (Go to Mugge’s website for details, photos, and more.)

“We (as Americans) are doing more to preserve European classical music than we are to preserving American classical music” Freeman laments early in the film and you can’t help but think that race is involved there. Still, Freeman and club co-owner Bill Lockett did their part to keep the tradition alive and help rebuild Clarksdale by opening Madidi Restaurant and Ground Zero, where they took care to recreate the look and feel of the old time jukes with Christmas lights, beer signs and pool tables (and a sign that says “no, no, no, no out of town checks!”). Freeman himself grew up in Greenwood (1 hour south of the club) and wasn’t allowed to visit those ‘bucket of blood’ places where the blues wailed out of, though he would sneak out anyway to visit. As he recalls in the film, decades before that, field hands would come off back-breaking broiling days picking cotton to blow off steam and congregate in these small shacks.

“Sometimes people are ashamed of who they are- they wanna run away from that,” another actor tells us later in the film. Chris Thomas King was featured in the Coen brothers’ (arguably best) movie O Brother, Where Art Thou?, playing a blues man, as he’s done off screen for years now. Thomas knows of what he speaks of, and not just in his own career- his dad ran Tabby’s Blues Box, which also closed its doors. Indeed, Mississippi comes up woefully short on cultivating its own musical history when compared to states like Tennessee, Louisiana and Texas. Truth be told, New York, Chicago and other northern cities are also pretty pitiful when it comes to toasting their own local talent. (Pictured: Mugge with musician Chris Thomas King.)mugge-chris-thomas-king

Speaking of pitiful, the scenes that Mugge documents at the Subway Lounge are especially disheartened when we learn its rich history and how even when it was nearing its coda, it was still a vibrant place to soak up the area talent. Co-owner King started the Lounge because other clubs would close early and musicians craved a place they could play into the wee hours of the morning- as such, it was not just a musical hub but also a place where musicians bonded and felt a kinship with each other. The Lounge was also crucial to the scene because as racially divided as the city was, the club was a place where races intermingled seamlessly otherwise. The racial mixers extended to the club’s own group, the House Rockers. Alongside the Rockers, the King Edwards Blues Band alternated as the house group, with other acts sitting in on gigs all the time. For a meager five bucks, you could experience its musical treasures and wash it down with a bucket of beer (recommended since there were no waiters) and a ‘blues dog’ sausage loaded with onions, chili, relish and peppers.

But there was a money-sucking cloud hanging over Subway in the form of a casino, which in addition to the slots and card games also had its own club to draw in local acts which would enjoy a better sound system and more pay if not the devoted crowd they’d find otherwise. Bigger name area venues also tried to glom off the historic music scene, offering the same amenities and better able to cash in on it. Wanna guess how the half-dozen or so juke joints around then fared against the big boys?

Mugge tells the discouraging tale of Subway and the scene through the eyes of area musicians who are best known to hardcore blues fans but definitely deserve more recognition. The performers also provide us with useful context, history and insight, including Vasti Johnson and Steve Cheeseborough, alongside historian Richard Waterman. Other times, we get the story from the songs themselves, including Jackson’s “Casino in the Cottonfield,” Greg Taylor’s “Subway Swing” and David Hughes, who provides the title song of the movie. To give us a taste of the scene, we also see Subway performances from noted songwriter George Jackson (“Cheating in the Next Room”), singer Patrice Moncell (aka Queen of the Blues), Bobby Rush (whose woman ran off with the “Garbage Man”; view a clip below) and Alvin Youngblood Hart (probably the biggest name here, performing solo and with a trio) among others.

But even with the rich pool of talent, the club had to contend not only with the casino but also highway construction, bureaucratic red tape and not enough props from the local government. A campaign to save Subway coalesced with a non-profit org backed by the local paper, some councilmen and donated labor in recognition of not just the music history but also the building’s connections to the Civil Rights movement. At the end of the film, we see a title panel showing us contact info for the Save the Subway fund and a dedication to Helen King (Jimmy’s wife) who ran Subway with him and died shorted after the filming ended.

In the postscript included as an extra with the recent DVD reissue, we get an update where we see Harris standing in front of crane taking down the dilapidated building in hopes of ultimately rebuilding the place. But there wasn’t enough money to cover the repairs which led to more demolition and flooding. Ultimately, Subway held its last show in April 2003, closing its doors the following month and the rest of the building was demolished the following year. As a post-postscript, further info reveals that the highway came into place and the spot where Subway stood is now a grassy, empty lot with a plaque commemorating the club.

A mixed fate, at best, was in store for the other clubs there. While Ground Zero still hosts shows from Wednesdays through the weekend, Madidi restaurant went under in 2012, 930 Cafe closed about five years ago and Club Ebony is only open for special events. Another local juke joint a half hour south of Clarksdale called Po Monkey’s (which dates back to ’61) is now in limbo since its owner recently died. On the plus side, the Delta Blues Museum just got one and a half million dollars to upgrade their exhibits (which means that the state boosts history but not the here/now) and the Wolf festival now lives on as the Black Prairie Blues Festival. Local writer/educator George Light reports that Clarksdale still has its share of music thanks to area festivals and that some of the Subway acts congregated around a restaurant two hours south of Clarksdale (near where the 930 Blues Cafe stood) for a blues night until the eatery also went belly up about five years ago.

Though Mugge’s doc paints a grim picture, you feel grateful that at least he took time to document the Mississippi blues scene at its root, even if it’s been fading for years.

Luckily, if you wanna support the scene, you have some options- you can boost the Delta Blues Museum at http://www.deltabluesmuseum.org, the Blues Foundation (based in Memphis) at http://blues.org, and the Mississippi Blues Foundation & its Blues Trail at http://www.msbluestrail.org. If there’s enough backing, maybe Mugge could do a sunnier follow-up doc.

miss-jukes-10-21

JUKIN’: Robert Mugge’s Last of the Mississippi Jukes Film

lastofthemississippijukes21

As much as a celebration as it is a eulogy: Though at times this documentary looks at the Mississippi blues scene grimly, you still feel grateful that director Robert Mugge at least took time to document that scene at its root. Even if it’s been fading for years, no true music lover will come away unmoved—and at times during the film, utterly exhilarated. Above: Mugge in the film with Irma Thomas and Morgan Freeman at the latter’s jukejoint.

 BY JASON GROSS

In 2006, a Mississippi trip provided me with sumptuous culinary highlights but mixed musical highlights.  The Howlin’ Wolf Blues Museum had opened the year before in West Point and the Blues Festival done in Wolf’s name provided a great tribute including his long-time guitarist, the late Hubert Sumlin. The Delta Blues Museum stood as a large expanded former freight depot in Clarksdale, with its doors open since ’99, and just down the road from Ground Zero, a blues club co-owned by actor Morgan Freeman, which started out only two years after that. Fitting that both places are also adjacent to the fabled crossroads when highways 61 and 49 meet. Unfortunately, both places were closed the days we visited so we made due with the 930 Blues Cafe in Jackson, a small suburban house that had comfort food and an older gent playing electric piano, as well as a stop at the Club Ebony in Indianola (purchased two years later by local legend B.B. King) which featured a band rehearsing ‘80s pop tunes- it didn’t necessarily feel down home in either place. But there was also plenty of mouth-watering, sauce-slathered barbecue there that any Northerner would kill for or weep in shame at the fake shit for passes for food above the Mason-Dixon Line.

A trip four years before that would have revealed another music landmark and cultural hub- the Subway Lounge in Jackson.  Opened in ’66 by bandleader Jimmy King as a basement club in a black-owned hotel, Subway was a somewhat spiffier version of the blues clubs, aka juke joints, which featured local talent and all-night jams. It also a Souther stop for nationally-known R&B acts like James Brown and Jackie Wilson who would pass through (not to mention the Civil Rights Freedom Riders in the early ‘60s).

When director Robert Mugge (also responsible for 1991’s wonderful Deep Blues doc) showed up in 2002 to document the local scene, Subway was on its last legs while Ground Zero was just starting out.  As such, his now-reissued 2003 documentary Last of the Mississippi Jukes is as much as a celebration as it is a eulogy. (Go to Mugge’s website for details, photos, and more.)

“We (as Americans) are doing more to preserve European classical music than we are to preserving American classical music” Freeman laments early in the film and you can’t help but think that race is involved there. Still, Freeman and club co-owner Bill Lockett did their part to keep the tradition alive and help rebuild Clarksdale by opening Madidi Restaurant and Ground Zero, where they took care to recreate the look and feel of the old time jukes with Christmas lights, beer signs and pool tables (and a sign that says “no, no, no, no out of town checks!”). Freeman himself grew up in Greenwood (1 hour south of the club) and wasn’t allowed to visit those ‘bucket of blood’ places where the blues wailed out of, though he would sneak out anyway to visit. As he recalls in the film, decades before that, field hands would come off back-breaking broiling days picking cotton to blow off steam and congregate in these small shacks.

“Sometimes people are ashamed of who they are- they wanna run away from that,” another actor tells us later in the film. Chris Thomas King was featured in the Coen brothers’ (arguably best) movie O Brother, Where Art Thou?, playing a blues man, as he’s done off screen for years now. Thomas knows of what he speaks of, and not just in his own career- his dad ran Tabby’s Blues Box, which also closed its doors.  Indeed, Mississippi comes up woefully short on cultivating its own musical history when compared to states like Tennessee, Louisiana and Texas. Truth be told, New York, Chicago and other northern cities are also pretty pitiful when it comes to toasting their own local talent. (Pictured: Mugge with musician Chris Thomas King.)mugge-chris-thomas-king

Speaking of pitiful, the scenes that Mugge documents at the Subway Lounge are especially disheartened when we learn its rich history and how even when it was nearing its coda, it was still a vibrant place to soak up the area talent.  Co-owner King started the Lounge because other clubs would close early and musicians craved a place they could play into the wee hours of the morning- as such, it was not just a musical hub but also a place where musicians bonded and felt a kinship with each other. The Lounge was also crucial to the scene because as racially divided as the city was, the club was a place where races intermingled seamlessly otherwise.  The racial mixers extended to the club’s own group, the House Rockers. Alongside the Rockers, the King Edwards Blues Band alternated as the house group, with other acts sitting in on gigs all the time. For a meager five bucks, you could experience its musical treasures and wash it down with a bucket of beer (recommended since there were no waiters) and a ‘blues dog’ sausage loaded with onions, chili, relish and peppers.

But there was a money-sucking cloud hanging over Subway in the form of a casino, which in addition to the slots and card games also had its own club to draw in local acts which would enjoy a better sound system and more pay if not the devoted crowd they’d find otherwise.  Bigger name area venues also tried to glom off the historic music scene, offering the same amenities and better able to cash in on it.  Wanna guess how the half-dozen or so juke joints around then fared against the big boys?

Mugge tells the discouraging tale of Subway and the scene through the eyes of area musicians who are best known to hardcore blues fans but definitely deserve more recognition.  The performers also provide us with useful context, history and insight, including Vasti Johnson and Steve Cheeseborough, alongside historian Richard Waterman.  Other times, we get the story from the songs themselves, including Jackson’s “Casino in the Cottonfield,” Greg Taylor’s “Subway Swing” and David Hughes, who provides the title song of the movie.  To give us a taste of the scene, we also see Subway performances from noted songwriter George Jackson (“Cheating in the Next Room”), singer Patrice Moncell (aka Queen of the Blues), Bobby Rush (whose woman ran off with the “Garbage Man”; view a clip below) and Alvin Youngblood Hart (probably the biggest name here, performing solo and with a trio) among others.

But even with the rich pool of talent, the club had to contend not only with the casino but also highway construction, bureaucratic red tape and not enough props from the local government. A campaign to save Subway coalesced with a non-profit org backed by the local paper, some councilmen and donated labor in recognition of not just the music history but also the building’s connections to the Civil Rights movement.  At the end of the film, we see a title panel showing us contact info for the Save the Subway fund and a dedication to Helen King (Jimmy’s wife) who ran Subway with him and died shorted after the filming ended.

In the postscript included as an extra with the recent DVD reissue, we get an update where we see Harris standing in front of crane taking down the dilapidated building in hopes of ultimately rebuilding the place. But there wasn’t enough money to cover the repairs which led to more demolition and flooding.  Ultimately, Subway held its last show in April 2003, closing its doors the following month and the rest of the building was demolished the following year.  As a post-postscript, further info reveals that the highway came into place and the spot where Subway stood is now a grassy, empty lot with a plaque commemorating the club.

A mixed fate, at best, was in store for the other clubs there.  While Ground Zero still hosts shows from Wednesdays through the weekend, Madidi restaurant went under in 2012, 930 Cafe closed about five years ago and Club Ebony is only open for special events. Another local juke joint a half hour south of Clarksdale called Po Monkey’s (which dates back to ’61) is now in limbo since its owner recently died. On the plus side, the Delta Blues Museum just got one and a half million dollars to upgrade their exhibits (which means that the state boosts history but not the here/now) and the Wolf festival now lives on as the Black Prairie Blues Festival. Local writer/educator George Light reports that Clarksdale still has its share of music thanks to area festivals and that some of the Subway acts congregated around a restaurant two hours south of Clarksdale (near where the 930 Blues Cafe stood) for a blues night until the eatery also went belly up about five years ago.

Though Mugge’s doc paints a grim picture, you feel grateful that at least he took time to document the Mississippi blues scene at its root, even if it’s been fading for years.

Luckily, if you wanna support the scene, you have some options- you can boost the Delta Blues Museum at http://www.deltabluesmuseum.org, the Blues Foundation (based in Memphis) at http://blues.org, and the Mississippi Blues Foundation & its Blues Trail at http://www.msbluestrail.org. If there’s enough backing, maybe Mugge could do a sunnier follow-up doc.

miss-jukes-10-21

THE EVERLY BROTHERS – Harmonies From Heaven

Title: Harmonies From Heaven

Director: n/a

Release Date: September 09, 2016

www.eagle-rock.com

the-everly-brothers-harmonies-from-heaven-cover-dvd-lr

The Upshot: A thorough documentary that’s thoroughly entertaining and informative.

 BY LEE ZIMMERMAN

Casting a lasting influence over practically every band at the helm of the ‘60s British Invasion, the Everly Brothers’ earned the distinction of being one of the most important duos to etch an imprint in the entirety of American music. That powerful influence belied their humble beginnings as early architects of a sound based strictly on their backwoods upbringing, nurtured on their family’s radio show and eventually accelerated by a move to Nashville where they gained a source for the songs that would propel them to the top of the charts.

Those humble beginnings and slow but steady rise to stardom unfolds to a remarkable degree in a Blu-Ray and DVD aptly entitled Harmonies From Heaven, a thorough documentary that offers both archival footage and contemporary commentary. As never before it illuminates the brothers’ ascendance to a stature one can only deem as legendary. The footage tracing that upward progression is impressive enough, but a classic concert unearthed from Sydney Australia in 1968 is, in itself, well worth the price of admission. It gives a rare glimpse of the duo after their early heyday but prior to the aforementioned ascendance to the status of rock ‘n’ roll’s elder statesmen. Despite the acrimony and tragedy that would befall them later on, it offers an ample glimpse of the glory that they attained both then and now.

As if there’s any doubt as to why they deserve that recognition, then the testimony given by those under their influence erases any doubt completely. Graham Nash, Keith Richards and Dave Edmunds are among the stars featured through exclusive interviews that recount the ways the brothers left their mark on the adolescent English rockers who aspired to follow in their footsteps. It’s heady stuff indeed, but the obvious emotional attachment these icons had for the Everlys is wholly evident here. If this was a made-for-TV movie, the drama alone would make it an Emmy contender. As it is, the pair’s powerful story enshrines them forever as one of pop’s most prolific pioneers.

Stooges/Jarmusch Film: Best. Roc Doc. Ever?

gimmedanger_01

Magic 8-ball says YES.

By Uncle Blurt

The BLURT crew went to see Gimme Danger this weekend and the consensus on the Jim Jarmusch directed documentary on the Stooges film (which stars a guy named Iggy Pop… you may have heard of him…) is… hell yeah. Decide for yourself and go see the fuggin’ thing. Below is the trailer. Boy howdy!

 

Brian Eno Embarks Upon New Film Project

eno

And it’s not necessarily an oblique strategy for the chrome-domed one…

By Blurt Staff

According to The Quietus, Brian Eno’s latest album, The Ship (Warp Records), has now gotten a companion film. According to Warp, it is “a generative film” that “explores various historical photographic images and real time news feeds to compose a collective photographic memory of humankind.”

The film is a collaboration between Eno and Dentsu Lab Tokyo – the latter “is engaged in the development of new forms of expression through the use of new forms of technology.”

The film can be viewed here. Below, watch the trailer, then listen to the original track “The Ship.”

Icelandic Composer Jóhann Jóhannsson Tapped for Blade Runner Score

Blade new

Film approaches an October 16 release… sorry, fans. That’s 2017.

By Blurt Staff

The Quietus reports:

After much anticipation, it has been revealed that Jóhann Jóhannsson has been given the task of soundtracking the upcoming Blade Runner sequel.

The Icelandic composer revealed the news in a recent interview on Iceland’s RÚV radio station with the film seeing him team up once again with director Denis Villeneuve, who will direct the forthcoming film and who directed the 2015 film Sicario, which Jóhannsson also soundtracked.

Speaking to FACT, Jóhannsson said that following Vangelis’ score to the 1982 original was “an enormous challenge of mythical proportions,” describing the composer as a major influence on his work. He’s still in the early stages of working on the soundtrack, so no further details are available just yet. The film is set for release on October 6, 2017.

Blade