Film Review: Muscle Shoals (USA, 2013)

swampers

The Muscle Shoals documentary is as soulful as the music that came out of the Alabama County of the same name. The documentary is filled to the brim with the rich musical history of the town that gave the world The Swampers, and countless hits from The Rolling Stones, Aretha Franklin and way too many others to list.

At the centre of the documentary is Rick Hall, who founded FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, and ended up producing what are now some of the most well known bands and songs in the world.

Set on the backdrop of the late ‘50s through to the ‘70s, Muscle Shoals touches upon the racism that was ever present in the south at the time, and the way Rick Hall brought musicians of every colour together to record revolutionary music. The comments on the segregation aren’t lengthy or very deep, but they do show the way in which Hall cared only for the music, and not for the colour of someone’s skin/

Directed by Greg “Freddy” Camalier, Muscle Shoals gravitates from the early days of the friendship between Rick Hall and Jerry Wexler, and the many hits that were played by the FAME Studios house band, The Swampers, to the modern faces who have been affected by Muscle Shoals, both in the ‘60s (like Etta James) and in the 21st Century (like Alicia Keys).

The film is cut with hundreds of clips and interviews with the most famous faces in the world, including Bono, Keith Richards, Mick Jagger, Aretha Franklin, and way too many more to list. These interviews alone are enough to draw in any music fan.

The film has a melancholic air to it, reminiscent of “good old days” speeches you could hear from your grandparents, but its nostalgia draws you in and makes you hungry to learn more about the town, and hear more amazing music.

Not one artist or producer seems to be able to pinpoint the sound that came from the town, but Muscle Shoals certainly shows you, constantly playing the tracks of the artists who graced FAME Studios.

Clarence Carter says at one point, “each time a person went to Muscle Shoals, they came out of there with a hit record”, and the list of songs recorded by Hall and Wexler, both together and then apart after their falling out, is enough to prove that.

While the rift between Hall and Wexler, and their subsequent studios in the town, is a notable part of the music history in Muscle Shoals, it does nothing to deflect from the music, and serves just to show the ripple effect that Hall had on the music scene in America over forty years ago.

Muscle Shoals is informative and rich in footage, songs and interviews, and is definitely worth the watch for fans of any genre of music. Muscle Shoals, Alabama, is truly where rhythm and blues in the south came from, and this documentary candidly shows the origins of FAME Studios, and everything that Rick Hall built in the town.

Review Score: FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Muscle Shoals is showing exclusively at ACMI in Melbourne for a limited season, opening Friday 27th December. For more details, visit: http://www.acmi.net.au/lp_muscle_shoals.aspx

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