Movie Review: “Take Me To The River” Is Musical Utopia

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Review by James McDonald

A documentary about the soul of American music. The film follows the recording of a new album featuring legends from Stax records and Memphis mentoring and passing on their musical magic to stars and artists of today.

“Take Me to the River” is a documentary which introduces the viewer to the music of Tennessee, past, present and future. Its most significant musical claims to fame are as the apparent “Birthplace of the Blues” and “Birthplace of Rock and Roll”. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, the city was home to two of the most famous soul music record labels, Hi and Stax Records. From their recording studios came the likes of Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding and Sam & Dave, musicians who today, still inspire a new generation of artists, young and old.

The film shows the recording of a historic new album which includes legendary musicians from Stax Records who collaborate with some of today’s younger hip-hop artists such as Lil P-Nut, Al Kapone and Snoop Dogg. Actor and musician Terrence Howard is the film’s host and we learn what it was like for black musicians in the South during the 60s and the 70s even though they were at the height of their fame. Mr. Howard, a very talented musician, even gets to perform his own very catchy song called “Walk Away.”

There were some songs which were part of the new album which I genuinely loved, two in particular. The first was called “Tryin’ To Live My Life Without You” which involved legendary musician Otis Clay and 12 year-old rapper Lil’ P-Nut. Listening to a classical blues luminary such as Otis Clay and the new, rap music of today by Lil’ P-Nut combined together into one song, was something I didn’t think would work as I personally loathe rap music but the two musicians pulled it off and very successfully I might add.

The other song was a remake of a Rufus Thomas song called “Push And Pull”, combining the talents of American Blues icon Bobby Rush and rapper Frayser Boy. And again, infusing classical blues and modern day rap almost feels like sacrilege but these two talented musicians pull it off and create a terrific feel-good song with a beat that is second to none. The movie is filled with great songs, old and new and watching all of these artists come together, young and old, was a musical joy to behold.

In select theaters now

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James McDonald
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