Muscle Shoals Blu-ray Review
“Now Muscle Shoals has got the Swampers. And they’ve been known to pick a song or two. Lord they get me off so much. They pick me up when I’m feeling blue.”
These words are found in the classic southern-rock hit “Sweet Home, Alabama,” performed by Lynyrd Skynrd. And the band knew what they were singing about, having recorded many a song at FAME Studios, located in the town of Muscle Shoals, Alabama. How did a town with less than 10,000 people become the musical Mecca of the 1970s? Pull up a chair, put MUSCLE SHOALS into your Blu-ray player and find the answer.
The film tells the story of a young musician named Rick Hall, who built FAME Studios into an entity that attracted the cream of the crop of the music world. It’s where some of the most popular and memorable music of a generation was recorded. Told through the words of those who were there, MUSCLE SHOALS is a virtual who’s who of musical royalty. Aretha Franklin recounts her young career and how it was almost stalled out with the songs Columbia Records was having her record. Now signed to Jerry Wexler’s Atlantic label, she ventured south and recorded the classic “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)” The rest, as the saying goes, is history.
Wexler figures largely in the story as well. After a misunderstanding during the initial Aretha Franklin sessions (Franklin’s husband at the time was upset, thinking one of the musicians had made a pass at his wife, and had the young man fired). When Rick Hall made an attempt to smooth things over things went bad quickly. Wexler (and Aretha) split the scene, with Wexler declaring that he would NEVER work with Hall again.
Dramatics aside, the film documents the creation of some of history’s greatest songs, including “Brown Sugar” and “Wild Horses” by the Rolling Stones, “Night Moves,” “Old Time Rock and Roll” and the greatest Bob Seger song ever, “Mainstreet.” Also recorded at FAME Studios: Albums by Cher, Paul Simon, Dr. Hook, Julian Lennon and, of course, Lynryd Skynyrd, including the groups last studio album with Ronnie Van Zant: “Street Survivors.” Besides such musical icons as Franklin, the Stones’ Mick Jagger and Keith Richards and Gregg Allman, more recent hit makers, including U2’s Bono and Alicia Keyes, talk about the importance FAME Studios holds, not only in their music but in the music that influenced them. The studio and its memories are still fresh in many of their minds, including Jagger and Richards. Commenting on how the Muscle Shoals “sound” made him feel like he was in Rock and Roll Heaven, Richards laments that the Stones went to France to record their classic album “Exile on Main Street.” He claims he would have loved to have recorded that album at Muscle Shoals but there was one little problem: he wasn’t allowed in the U.S. at the time!
MUSCLE SHOALS BLU-RAY REVIEW
Video: Presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio, the film boasts a sharp, clear look that makes you feel like you’re in the room with the interview subjects.
Audio: Presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, the sound is outstanding. Always a good thing when you’re watching a film ABOUT music.
Commentaries: The disc comes with two separate commentaries. The first is by director Greg “Freddy” Carmalier. Informative but could have been so much better. The second features FAME Studios founder Rick Hall, musician Spooner Oldham and two of the renowned Swampers: David Hood and Jimmy Johnson. A lot of history.
Additional Scenes and Interviews (1:28:40): A collection of eight clips of various length and importance.
Also From Magnolia Entertainment: Some great documentaries here, including “Good Ol’ Freda,” a film about the young woman who answered the Beatles’ fan mail.