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Documentaries on American music


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So, I'm watching documentaries about traditions in American music:

  • Awake, My Soul: The Story of the Sacred Harp
  • Homemade Hillbilly Jam

What else should I watch? Should I go back to the Scorsese series on the blues?

Are there other emerging projects I should be aware of?

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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High Lonesome

Louie Bluie (it's on YouTube, but cover your eyes when Armstrong gets out his book of ... ahem ... special drawings. Howard Armstrong was an incredible musician, but I would hesitate to recommend this film to a general Christian audience. Besides dwelling far too much on his lurid pictures, it also features him performing a "blue" version of "Darktown Strutter's Ball" and railing against religion. But apart from all that, he was a charming and fascinating individual, and swung harder than any violinist except perhaps Stuff Smith.)

Ken Burns' Jazz

Edited by mrmando

Let's Carl the whole thing Orff!

Do you know the deep dark secret of the avatars?

It's big. It's fat. It's Greek.

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So, I'm watching documentaries about traditions in American music:

  • Awake, My Soul: The Story of the Sacred Harp
  • Homemade Hillbilly Jam

What else should I watch? Should I go back to the Scorsese series on the blues?

Are there other emerging projects I should be aware of?

Ken Burns' 11-part series on Jazz

High Lonesome: The Story of Bluegrass Music

The PBS American Experience episode on The Carter Family

Do not watch Scorsese's series on the blues. I love Scorsese. I love the blues. But this series was wrongheaded from the first frame and the first note You will learn precious little about the blues. And you will be bored out of your skull, which is something that should never happen with the blues.

Books (and listening!) are still the preferred way to go for most American roots music. Burns' series on jazz is good, but gives short shrift to the music of the past forty years. The other two listed above are merely okay. The Scorsese blues series is abysmal, in my opinion.

If you're up for some reading I'd recommend:

Deep Blues: A Musical and Cultural History of the Mississippi Delta -- Robert Palmer -- The best single-volume history of the blues I've found.

The Old, Weird America: The World of Bob Dylan's Basement Tapes -- Greil Marcus -- Only tangentially about Dylan, this book is really about the uncategorizable (is is country? gospel? folk? blues? The only real answer is Yes) music of the early 20th century.

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The thread title is broader than the description in the first post, which uses the word "traditions." I don't know what that means, exactly, but it made me think of some of the documentaries already mentioned. Going a bit broader, what about soul music? Is that "traditional"? I'm thinking of stuff largely from the latter half of the 20th century, although the roots go deeper.

I'm trying to figure out an angle to justify my recommendation of Wattstax, which is one of the best music documentaries I've ever seen.

Also, my perpetual nominee for the A&F Top 100, which I don't think has ever made the list: Say Amen, Somebody.

Edited by Christian

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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The High Lonesome Sound (not to be confused with the one on Bluegrass) This is a 1963 John Cohen film that is staggeringly beautiful. (here's Cohen talking about it:

)

"Appalachian Journey" & "Dreams and Songs of the Noble Old" These are both Alan Lomax films which were part of his American Patchwork series.

Basically though, go to Folkstreams.net and you have arrived. These Lomax films are streaming in their entirety as are tons more... It's incredible.

Here are a few more titles available at Folkstreams.net that are pretty mindblowing:

Sweet Is the Day: A Sacred Harp Family Portrait (this is about the Wootten Family of Ider AL- Terry Wootten is briefly in our film, and this film is made by Jim Carnes, who is in Awake, My Soul as well)

Afro-American Work Songs in a Texas Prison

Born for Hard Luck: Peg Leg Sam Jackson (as seen in Amelie)

Give My Poor Heart Ease: Mississippi Delta Bluesmen

Homemade American Music

The Land Where the Blues Began

Here are all the films: http://www.folkstreams.net/?list=1 many of which are not just about music...

mh

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What else should I watch? Should I go back to the Scorsese series on the blues?

The Blues series (which among others also had episodes by Eastwood and Winders) is worth watching again whether in conjunction with these others or not.

A foreign movie can't be stupid.

-from the film
Armin

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Pete Seeger: The Power of Song

Haven't seen it yet, but I did hear a good bit of David Dunaway's radio documentary on Seeger, and if the film is half as interesting as the radio piece, it'll be well worth your while.

Let's Carl the whole thing Orff!

Do you know the deep dark secret of the avatars?

It's big. It's fat. It's Greek.

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  • 1 month later...

By the way, my article is up at CT (well, the CT-abridged version is). The whole thing is up at my blog.

I checked out a lot of the docs you folks recommended, but when it came down to writing the article, I barely had room to focus on the three that CT asked me to consider, so I never got to discuss them. Maybe someday.

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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