Take Me to the River
Take Me to the River , music documentary, rated PG, The Screen, 2.5 chiles Music and Memphis are inseparably entwined in Martin Shore’s documentary. Narrator Terrence Howard opens the film by fervently praising the largest city on the Mississippi River as an “integrated music utopia.” This spirit is sustained by the numerous musicians, varying in age and professional stature, who come together in the movie to do what they do best — which is not just reminiscing about the good old days (though several are experts at that), but recording a studio album together, with Shore documenting the process.
The idea of a record being made in order to be filmed seems like it might lead to overproduced results. This is partly the case. The film’s saving grace is its foundational concept of mentorship. All 12 of the recorded tracks feature a pairing of at least one legend from the past and one newer voice. Examples include Booker T. Jones working with rapper Al Kapone, and William Bell and Snoop Dogg with students from the Stax Music Academy. The collaborations are not always perfect, though they are consistent with the message of the film — that Memphis’ rich history of developing key musical genres comes from the intermingling of the city’s diverse people and sounds.
The storied Stax Records is the touching point for most of the older players. Synonymous with the Memphis soul movement of the 1960s, the label and studio put out landmark releases by artists such as Otis Redding and Isaac Hayes. Al Bell, the label’s executive for part of its history, says in the film, “Stax didn’t say, ‘We want you to sound like this or sound like that.’ Stax was saying come on in and be yourself. … That’s what made it so authentic.” This authenticity does not carry over fully to the sessions in the film. The occasionally forced artist match-ups lead to some participants not knowing who they are working with until the person arrives at the studio (and sometimes not even then). But again, the positivity of the players buoys most dips in musical quality and narrative, especially in the case of the older musicians — a number of whom are captured recording their final takes. While most viewers of Take Me to the River won’t be glued to the edges of their seats or rush out to the record store after the credits roll, the film is a touching tribute to the musicians who paved the way for the present generation, and it offers a promising outlook on what’s to come.
From me to you: Bobby “Blue” Bland and Lil’ P-Nut