Weekend Recommendation: Standing in the Shadows of Motown
I was raised on music. It’s a force that has always been one of the most powerful and influencing in my life. I grew up on Jazz, Soul and R&B, but somehow a good part of the early Motown sound missed me.
When I got older, I figured out that one of the main reasons that the sound of Diana Ross and the Supremes, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Martha and the Vandellas, and The Temptations missed me had to do with the slickness of production value: that perfect, near-manufactured sound.
In this digital age of ours manufactured sounds come in shiny packages available to anyone with a computer and a keyboard to plug in and play, and we take it for granted. Mainstream music so often, is manufactured, and that which isn’t is so often created by musicians of limited quality and a limited field of reference. To think that bands like Nirvana and the Beatles often serve as the furthest point and highest levels of musical achievement, is something that I think robs much of contemporary music of true character and innovation.
But in 1959 that sound of perfection and innovation came from The Funk Brothers, a band of both musicians and friends who achieved a level of technical sharpness and creativity that had never been seen before and will likely never be seen again. They were musicians with an impeccable sense of time and created sounds which have been the foundation of so much of what still sells records. Bass lines, percussion sounds, rhythms and keyboard tapestries that these musicians created every day.
The power of Standing in the Shadows of Motown comes from the stories of nameless working musicians who would revolutionize and innovate the sound of pop music, and do so during a time of segregation, civil rights marches and political strife. It’s the story of a band of brothers both Black and White who made music together, shared their lives and created a kind of musical alchemy rarely seen.
What originally was to be the story of the one-man “Funk Machine” behind the Motown sound, bass player James Jamerson, writer Alan Slutsky and filmmaker Paul Justman would embark on a journey to tell the stories of the core group of musicians as they recount the creative high point in their lives and careers. Not unlike in Wim Wenders‘ Buena Vista Social Club, do we discover a band of unknown musicians finally getting the recognition they deserve and reuniting to tell stories and play just one more time.
This time, The Funk Brothers are joined by in live performance by the talents of the great Me’Shell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Gerald Levert, Bootsy Collins and the ever-powerful Chaka Khan. The number of hits will surprise you, the music will move your heart and the story will touch your soul. Nothing at all dry to this film, I recommend this film be a part of everyone’s collection.
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