Movies by their very definition are meant to be seen, which means that when you run into a film that presents you with some beautiful imagery that you can see with your eyes closed it is something to stand up and take notice of. After gracing screens all across North America this past year and now available on DVD & Blu-Ray; "Muscle Shoals" takes us to a small Alabama town where music history was made.
Located alongside the Tennessee River, Muscle Shoals, Alabama is the unlikely birthplace 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. We track his story of overcoming crushing poverty and staggering tragedies, he brought black and white together in Alabama's cauldron of racial hostility to create music that would persevere for generations while giving birth to the 'Muscle Shoals Sound' and the infamous studio band and studio musicians 'The Swampers'. Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Percy Sledge, Gregg Allman, Clarence Carter, Etta James, Alicia Keys, Bono, and others bear witness and speak about the Muscle Shoals' magnetism, mystery, and why it remains influential today.
With his first ever film, director Greg 'Freddy' Camalier dives us into a genuine piece of sonic and popular culture history. Saying in interviews that this story picked him to tell it makes an incredible amount of sense as we can feel the warmth and belief in this sound come through as he sets up the stories of both the history of the 'Muscle Shoals' sound and that of Rick Hall who founded FAME studios that launched it all. Hall's story is a tragic one but it makes the sounds that came out of his studio all the sweeter, and as we track the history of it all is an impressive one that rivals the story of 'The Funk Brothers' who were the session players for all the biggest Motown hits, and much like their Detroit compatriots; 'The Swampers' were also white. In the south, the studio and the sound was a fantastic precursor that showed a nation still divided by racial strife how blacks and whites could not only work together, but truly create some beautiful music together.
While at times Camalier does tend to rush through or gloss over some segments of the musical history area you can tell it is only because he simply can't make a 5 hour film, all though I certainly wish that it was exactly that.
Picture and sound quality on the Blu-Ray were simply top notch and special features on the Blu-Ray include additional scenes and interviews, a feature length commentary track from director Greg 'Freddy' Camalier and a feature length commentary track with Rick Hall, Jimmy Johnson, David Hood and Spooner Oldham as well as the original theatrical trailer.
At the end of the day, "Muscle Shoals" belongs in the canon of some of the best music documentaries of all time, because while it shows us a truly wonderful story of creativity and harmony, all you really have to do is listen in order to understand how magical that Muscle Shoals sound truly is.
5 out of 5 stars.