Running Time:  111 mins.                      Rating: x Stars/5 Stars

MPAA Rating: PG

Director: Greg ‘Freddy’ Camalier

Genre: Documentary

Country: USA

Language: English

Distributor: Magnolia


My own study of music has taken me from fifth-century Gregorian chants through Renaissance Madrigals, past Bach and into Beethoven (the bridge between the 18th and 19th centuries).  I’m now up to Brahms and Schumann and Wagner, so perhaps in five years I’ll look more deeply into 20th century American pop music.  Here I am sitting in and watching MUSCLE SHOALS (as I say, I won’t be into the 20th century for a while), so everything in Greg Camalier’s documentary about a magic place is an education for me, well, at least anything beyond the song “If A Man Loves A Woman.”

MUSCLE SHOALS is a movie that not only features the best of the funky music that came out of that small town on the Tennessee River but reinforces the idea that the place itself is magic.  After all, how many musicians of this earthy beat could have come out of a village unless said pueblo was magic?  The answer is quite a few.  In fact so many musicians recorded in that southern town with the funky style (funky means earthy, or more specifically as it relates to music, possessing a strong dance beat) that Camalier, in his excitement about covering everything as though it were a 101 course in American popular music, allow us to hear not more than a few bars, i.e. sound bites, of the music.  Most of the doc is filled with chatter from the now aging fellows who made their names in Alabama, which is fine, but for a guy like me who wants to feel the strong dance beat but instead listens to talking heads, the movie proves too much of a verbal entree with just a side order of marvelous tunes

Muscle Shoals, called The Singing River by Native Americans who lived there long before Rick Hall founded FAME studios, was the place in which Hall took with him a group of musicians known as The Swampers.  The result is quite a number of throbbing, pulsating, rock, soul and rhythm & blues.  Through archival films and chats with some of these originals and the musicians whose careers they made, we get a rounded picture of a generation of guitar-playing, drumming, bass-fiddling, and all-around soulful music-creating that began in the 1950s, overlapped the folk era of the Sixties, and became the foundation of rock-and-roll.

Aretha Franklin and Wilson Pickett in particular give us the view that rhythm & blues had been made to appeal to an urban, African-American audience but (like hip-hop today?) spread throughout the country.  Bands on display were often mixed, white and black, an anomaly in the South that gave us such unenlightened governors pandering to Caucasians as George Wallace.

A point made is that while Southern people might “look” at mixed diners in a restaurant at a time that blacks were supposed to introduce whites in their band as “Mr. Robert” and “Mr. Jimmy,” the studios inside were colorblind. Fast friendships developed as we see in photos of interracial folks with their arms around one another. Even major hitters like Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones and Paul Simon got lured to this magic area of America, a town that formed the foundation of recording hits each of which sold in the millions.


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