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Posts Tagged ‘Bobby Rush’

I AM THE BLUES (2016) DVD REVIEW

Saturday, August 5th, 2017

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Stars – Bobby Rush, Barbara Lynn, Lazy Lester * Director- Daniel Cross
* Released by Film Movement *Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

This film takes its time to get where it‘s going. It meanders here and there. It begins by stopping off in front of a dilapidated store front to sit with three guys while they chew the fat and play guitars together. We meet up with Bobby Rush as he drives to a gig. He’s about eighty years old and still working the road. Most of the folks here are in the twilight of their years. They look back on their time working the circuit with occasional brushes with success or playing behind a big name like BB King or Howlin’ Wolf. There is not a distinct narrative or much direction that pulls us along. The film lives and dies by who happens to be in front of the camera at any given moment. Once you sit back though and just get to know these folks, there is a real good time to be had with this film.

At one point Lazy Lester weighs in on what the blues really is. He gets quite explicit with an urgency to his voice. He talks about the BBB and WBB, meaning the White Boy Blues and the Black Boys Blues. Then he laughs and says it is all the same. Lester takes his guitar and gets all serious again. He tells us this is what the blues really is. “I’m going to show you the real blues” Then he plays, Sing Me Back Home” which is a country song written by Merle Haggard. It should be noted that there is a great deal of drinking going on and some of the stories may be embellished or just sound better with a little twist on them. The film moves from acoustic solo guitar sessions to what looks like some kind of big reunion get together for a bunch of these folks who have bumped into each other on the road for many long years. Heaps of crayfish are prepared. People gather at a roadside café type place. Amplifiers, a keyboard and a drum kit get set up. We’re treated to some nice amplified electric blues that starts off with the Peppermint Harris song, I Got Loaded.

A highlight of the film is meeting Barbara Lynn. She’s known as a soul singer who had a hit with , “You’ll Lose A Good Thing” in 1962. It was rare for a woman to write he own material back then let alone play guitar, and left handed at that. She plays beautifully, very melodic and trebly. She reminds me of the way Curtis Mayfield used to play an electric guitar. She sits on a park bench and shows off this gorgeous custom made Gibson with gold inlay with a pattern of roses. The film journeys back to someone’s house where there is some piano playing, some sing-alongs and more story swapping.
It does not appear that these signers and players have retired with the kind of money that rock stars get but they sure seem to still get a helluva kick out of life. I don’t believe some of them are even retired yet. I Am The Blues is neither definitive nor is it particularly well organized. However the music is good, the stories and fun and you come away with a better understanding of the more rural and Hill Country blues scenes and the folks who still keep it going. Here is run down of many of the artists featured – Bobby Rush, Barbara Lynn, Henry Gray, Carol Fran, Little Freddie King, Lazy Lester, Bilbo Walker, Jimmy “Duck” Holmes, RL Boyce, LC Ulmer, and Lil’ Buck Sinegal. .

Video – 1.78:1
The photography is generally catch as catch can TV documentary style. Though many of the subject are sitting down which allows for the camera to get locked down and sit steady. Many of the shots caught on the fly like the ones that feature a car buzzing by someone’s driveway to say hello are fun.

Audio – 5.1 Dolby and 2.0 Dolby Digital with subtitles offered in English
The sound varies in quality but is overall very pleasant and well recorded. The film comes back a few times to those three guys in front of the store. That’s some nice playing.

Extras – Additional intimate footage and outtakes with Allen Toussaint, Professor Longhair, Barbara Lynn, Bobby Rush, Little Freddie King .

These are largely extensions of what we already heard save for the one with Allen Toussaint that was not included in the film.

On a scale of Poor, Fair, Good, Excellent, Classic :

DVD – Good

Movie – Good

Last of the Mississippi Jukes (2003) DVD Review

Saturday, October 15th, 2016

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Featuring – Morgan Freeman, Vasti Jackson, Patrice Moncell, The King Edward Blues Band, Bobby Rush
Director – Robert Mugge

Released by MVD Visual

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

This documentary wants to take you out for a night at The Subway Lounge in Jackson Mississippi. It’ll be a late one as they don’t really get cooking till after midnight. If you like blues you’ll love it and if you don’t, you soon will. The first stop though is at actor Morgan Freeman’s newly opened (2001) Ground Zero Blues Club in Clarksdale. The name fits as it’s right near where Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil at the crossroads. He and his partner made sure that the place had the look and feel of the old Juke Joints they used to go to. There are pool tables with worn felt and none of the chairs at the tables match. They tell us a little bit about the origins of the old joints but this is not a history lesson. It’s more of a celebration. After that short introduction the film goes The Subway Lounge for the bulk of its 86 minute running time.

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The club sits down in the basement of the dilapidated Sommers Hotel. The place opened in the forties and became a haven for black musicians who were not permitted to stay at the other hotels in the segregated era. The club started in 1966 and developed a strong reputation with blues and jazz fans. We’re told several times in the film that professional singers and bands who had a gig nearby would often come by the club late just to relax and sit in with whoever was playing that night. A genuine informality pervaded. People could dance right up close to the band and in many cases sing a verse or two. As time passed bigger venues and casinos opened in the area. There were many commercialized places you could see “The Blues”. But if you had a friend in the know The Subway was where you wound up and where you came back to as often as you could.

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Director Robert Mugge shows us plenty of performances from the stage. The names of the performers may not be readily recognizable but many of them put on a helluva show. Patrice Moncell is a big woman with an even bigger voice. During a song she vamps out a salacious, sexy and hilarious instructional on how to get your lover fed well, liquored up and skillfully maneuvered from the kitchen table to the couch for some late night action. Vasti Jackson fronts The King Edward Blues Band with a style that’s got more than a little Tyrone Davis going on. He also plays a mean guitar. Towards the end an elderly gentleman takes the stage and just kills it with a version of Bobby Bland’s “Members Only”. As good as any of the guys are though everything retains that neighborhood bar feeling. Magge makes sure to convey that atmosphere.

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Jimmy King who runs the place is interviewed. He reveals a few secrets like selling buckets of beer so patrons won’t have to keep getting up and waiting in line. The bucket is crammed full of beer cans and ice. It’s so full that many times patrons bring the rest they can’t finish back up to the bar and Jimmy sells them again the next night. The club also offers a Blues-Dog. This started out as a hot dog and is apparently stuffed with everything available in the kitchen, We see two patrons enjoying the dogs outside on the porch perhaps because they are too messy to eat inside. The admission is just five bucks. It was purposely kept low so the average person could get out and have a good time. This harks back to the old Juke Joints that were also know as a place for a real cheap good time. The Subway Lounge is only open on the weekend nights. And they open late.

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The film ends with a few songs and leaves you with a real appreciation for the place. Many cities and towns have these landmark bars and dives that are know for the incredible music and good times. The Subway Lounge being tied to The Sommers Hotel also has a piece of history attached. There is an extra, The Subway Lounge Today that acts as a sad coda. Most of the film was shot inside so this is really the first time we get a good look at the outside of the place. As historic as it is, it looks like it is going to be condemned. It was. Efforts were made to raise funds to renovate the building. This was no job for one of the Property Brothers shows. We see a bulldozer attempt to take out a troubled section but the entire structure was in such poor shape that eventually the whole building had to be torn down. Jimmy King rescues a sign from the bandstand. A plaque is put up next to where it stood. This is the end of an era. Robert Magee clearly has a love for music and his film easily shares that with us. The last of the Mississippi Jukes is a friendly film. Play it loud and enjoy it.

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Video – 1.85:1
Much of the film has the look of a TV news special, nothing fancy. Most of the shots are done inside under low light so don’t expect a Hollywood style picture. It works fine for what it is. Whenever the camera pans left to right or stumbles across a stripped shirt the image shimmies like a go-go dancer just back from an espresso break. That does not happen much, you’re not watching this for the cinemphotography anyway.

Audio – Dolby Digital 5.1
The sound has a nice roomy feel to it. It is not heavily produced so it gives off a very natural presence.

Extras – The Subway Lounge Today -An “Update, Bonus audio tracks. The short is non-anamorphic so it sits in its own little rectangle shaped island in the screen.

On a scale of Poor, Fair, Good, Excellent, Classic :

DVD – Good

Movie – Excellent