Muscle Shoals (Blu-ray)
Magnolia / 2013 / 111 min / PG
You wouldn't think much to look at the small, quiet town of Muscle Shoals, Alabama. It appears almost as the untouched paradise of the south with plenty of farmland, cotton fields and swamps. Nestled within this simple community is the FAME recording studio which produced albums for many legendary artists. They did not merely pass through; this little studio helped produce some of the most legendary and timeless music of many generations.
But this is more than just a showcase for stories of working with the musical greats (though there is plenty present). There is a more personal aspect as about half the film covers the life of studio head Rick Hail. His is a life filled with tragic deaths, scuffles and alcoholism. Yet, for all his pain and poor upbringing, Rick succeeded in defining a generation of music with an authentic sound. His battle for quality was certainly rough, but his sacrifices were well worth the effort.
This is also due in part to the house band, The Swampers. Here was a bunch of white males who were able to provide a soulful sound to back-up the likes of Aretha Franklin and Clarence Carter. Not only did they record a few songs, they managed to produce some of the best of many musical artists. The amount of musicians they've had pass through is an endless list of talent from Mick Jagger to Gregg Allman. So talented were The Swampers that they eventually left to start their own studio, Muscle Shoals Sound.
Director Greg "Freddy" Camalier skillfully mixes interviews with Rick Hall and several musical artists along with engaging archival footage. This includes lots of photos from the studio and even some rare archival footage of recording sessions. One of the best sections involves the Rolling Stones attending a session in which they were clearly drunk. The reactions from Mick Jagger and Keith Richards when talking about that part of their career were priceless.
Coupled with all these amazing stories is a stellar soundtrack of the famous works recorded right in Muscle Shoals. Some of the artists like to believe that the pitch-perfect sound they were able to acquire has something to do with Muscle Shoals' southern beauty. It may be partially responsible given the local flavor, but it's all about Rick Hall. His devotion to the craft has made him a dream weaver of the music industry that needs to be remembered if not for the talent he helped arise than the hardship he fought to get to that point.
The Blu-ray features a solid transfer perfectly suited for this film. The 1080p video looks jaw-droppingly good when displaying the natural beauty of Muscle Shoals from the green fields to the clear streams. And let's not forget the 5.1 audio boasting some top-notch music recorded at the famous studio. You'll be hard-pressed not to turn up the volume once you hear these classics coming through the speakers.
The Blu-ray comes packed with more insight that includes two commentary tracks and deleted scenes.
As far as documentaries on the music industry go, Muscle Shoals is an absolute must-see. It's an astonishing wonder to watch as one man rose up from his simple Alabama life to craft some of the finest music on the planet. If you're even a tad interested in great music of the 20th century, there is no reason not to purchase this Blu-ray.