So how come a doughy looking white guy like me enjoyed these performances, and didn’t watch a single part of the Martin Scorsese miniseries that covered Blues music? It’s because growing up, the first big musical influence in my life was Jimi Hendrix, so I was a bit familiar with the Electric Blues sound that Jimi had. And names like Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters and Leadbelly were not new ones to me. And with the help of Led Zeppelin, I also learned about Robert Johnson too.
So while Antoine Fuqua (King Ar…hur) and Scorsese teamed to help revitalize the blues further with a 2003 concert at Radio city music hall, I certainly don’t bear any ill will at them for making blues fashionable or something stupid like that. It’s nice to see more people appreciate some uniquely American music legends for a change. The songs of the above artists, along with others including B.B. King and Billie Holliday are performed by the original artists or modern ones. The list, albeit lengthy, is:
- Zelie – Angelique Kidjo
- See That My Grave Was Kept Clean – Mavis Staples
- Gamblin’ Man – Honeyboy Edwards
- Love in Vain – Keb Mo and Danny Kortchmar
- Jim Crow Blues – Odetta
- St. Louis Blues – Natalie Cole
- Sittin’ On Top of the World – Blood Ulmer and Allison Krauss
- Mama – Ruth Brown
- Men are like Streetcars – Natalie Cole
- Can’t Be Satisfied – Buddy Guy
- Strange Fruit – India.Arie
- Hound Dog – Macy Gray
- Hear the Angels Singing – Larry Johnson
- Midnight Special – John Fogerty
- Okie Dokie Stomp – Gatemouth Brown
- Coming Home – Bonnie Raitt
- I’m a King Bee- Steven Tyler and Joe Perry
- Killing Floor – David Johansen
- I Pity the Fool – Shemekia Copeland
- Big Chief – Neville Brothers
- Turn on Your Love Light – Solomon Burke
- Red House – Buddy Guy
- Voodoo Child – Angelique Kidjo and Buddy Guy
- Boom Boom – Chuck D and the Fine Arts Militia
- Sweet Sixteen – B.B. King
- Paying the Cost to be the Boss – B.B. King, Robert Cray and Bonnie Raitt
Many of the songs were very solid, and some, particularly King’s and Burke’s performances, were flawless. There were some performances that just sucked. Chuck D’s war statement when the blues should have been celebrated was particularly in bad taste (read the lyrics of the song first Chuck!) and David Johansen wasn’t too good either. I don’t see what the appeal of Macy Gray is, because it seems like she always seems so disinterested in performing on a stage. Henry Rollins has some funny things to say about her which I’ll repeat if you’re interested. Overall, it was a good night of great music, and it’s worth checking out.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack this disc sports sounds very good and not overpowering. When singers sing, the rear speakers echo it, as you’d expect it to if you were sitting there. And the fact that it’s enveloping but not overly so seems to modestly capture the laid back feeling of the night.
The anamorphic 1.78:1 widescreen treatment of the film looks good, however there are some instances of pixilation when light would hit a guitar neck a certain way that put me off from time to time. It’s a brighter presentation also, but at the end of the day, neither of those issues are huge as there aren’t any persistent image issues to be concerned with.
One of the better music DVDs out there is a 2 disc version of the documentary Standing in the Shadows of Motown that has an extensive, exhaustive, interactive variety of extras the user can enjoy. Those extras cannot be found here. Even an adequate amount of extras isn’t here either. There are some deleted performances with Gregg Allman, Mos Def and other individuals that are good, but not great, and a brief interview with Fuqua where he talks about the project and the night. 7 trailers complete the disc.
More people should give blues music a solid unbiased experience, and they’ll find there are emotions in the lyrics that they can connect to more than most. With a solid video presentation and good audio soundtrack, you can’t ask for much more here. Give it a try!
Special Features List
- Deleted performances