Monday, October 28, 2013

Muscle Shoals (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Muscle Shoals

Greg 'Freddy' Camalier's "Muscle Shoals" (although taking more than a beat from the excellent and lively documentary "Sound City") is mysterious enough in its power of place to keep your head rocking.

Muscle Shoals is actually a physical place, the largest city in Colbert County, Alabama. As it is located on the Tennessee River, it is said that a soulful and profound music moves through the area and that a wellspring of songs are actually  mineralized in the very mud.

Whether you believe it or not, Muscle Shoals has a rich history, calcified in Blues and human drama. The blues musician W.C. Handy was from there, as is the eccentric and irrepressible Rick Hall.

Hall started the iconic Fame music studio in Muscle Shoals against all odds. Hall, who was on his own since a teen (his mom abandoned him) suffered immense loss until he experienced the epiphany that would bring him the studio.  Hall recorded with Aretha Franklin at Fame when no one would hire her and two careers (Franklin's and Hall's, took off).  "Muscle Shoals" is mostly about Hall and Fame studio. But more interestingly it is about a supernatural sense of place and maybe even the spirit world.

For starters, Rick Hall is a quirky and somewhat existential man. As  Hall says, in his own words, he was "born out of rejection". His wife died in a car accident. His father got mangled by a tractor and died in the fields. Through it all, he maintained a dream of a sound studio. Hall closed himself in and wrote songs. After Aretha Franklin's outpouring wail that made history, Hall became a producer of legend.

Hall created his own band named The Swampers and they had the uncanny ability to take on any style needed from playing alongside Motown mavens to Reggae.

At the height of his respect, Hall was betrayed by a rival with several Swampers jumping ship to start their own studio in the same town, just a few miles away.

Like an exile from William Golding's Lord of the Flies, Hall builds a bonfire on the banks of the river and seems to vow revenge. Hall's passion seems built from black smoke. He is part Johnny Cash, part Beowulf.

At one point, sporting a mustache, Hall might seem a version of the oil-ambitious Daniel Plainview, in "There Will Be Blood". Although Hall is obsessive, there is no violence within. But he remains a perfectionist.

Along with the back-stabbing, we are also treated to a gimlet eyed Keith Richards, a cyber-spacey Bono in his trademark Google-like glasses and an effete Mick Jagger who offers a smattering of dialogue about the river and mud producing deep sounds.

Although the celebrity interviews are a bit anemic and repetitive , the phrases about the numinous power of Muscle Shoals combined with some poetic scenery that, with some minor alteration, could be right out of "Deliverance", make this film an evocative outing.

The character of Rick Hall as a history making uniter of musical cultures, is reason enough to see this film. He is both a bereft man and a genius, from out of his mental Yuchi rocks.

Let us hope Hall keeps producing records, in defiance of any vengeful impulses .

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