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I AM THE BLUES (2016) DVD REVIEW

Saturday, August 5th, 2017

covererere

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