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Muscle Shoals – Review – movieScope

Muscle Shoals – Review

Directed by Greg ‘Freddy’ Camalier
Released: 25 October 2013
Reviewed by Chris Patmore

While Sound City and Muscle Shoals may physically be a continent apart, spiritually they share the same space, fuelled by a passion to produce great music. Dave Grohl’s Sound City documentary, from earlier this year, revealed how the grungey, little-known LA studio produced some of the iconic albums of West Coast music in the ’70s and ’80s. Neil Young, Fleetwood Mac, Rick Springfield, Tom Petty and Nirvana, along with many others, all recorded their career-defining LPs there. For many music lovers, the Sound City doc was a revelation.

Muscle Shoals pulls a similar trick with a story that starts a good decade later, but one that is all the more impressive because of its location. While the Sound City Studio was far from being luxurious, it was based in the entertainment capital of the US. FAME Studios, on the other hand, was based in the titular Alabama town of Muscle Shoals. At a time when racial segregation was still rife, and enforced, studio head Rick Hall, the son of a white backwoods farmer, was recording soon-to-be soul legends with the most unlikely group of session musicians. All those funky tunes recorded by the likes of Percy Sledge, Aretha Franklin, Etta James and Wilson Pickett, were played by the studio’s house band made up of a bunch of unassuming local white guys, who ended up playing together more or less by accident.

The film is filled with interviews with a veritable who’s who of funk, soul and blues, from both sides of the Atlantic, all of whom have spent time recording in that small southern town. All the recording artists had nothing but praise for the session band (known as The Swampers – those Lynyrd Skynyrd lyrics now make sense). Possibly the only down side was Bono’s wittering on, but Keith Richards more than compensated for that.

While a lot of music documentaries tend to focus on one particular artist, giving the films an often limited appeal, the scope of musical genres covered by Muscle Shoals (and Sound City), and the fact that both films focus as much on the studios and the people who ran them, make them all the more fascinating. For fans of contemporary music culture, both films are a must-see, for their similarities as well as their differences, but above all for the great music and a certain amount of human drama, humour and pathos.

4 stars

Soundtrack available on iTunes



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