MOVIE REVIEW | Muscle Shoals (2013)

Muscle Shoals
“There are certain places where there is a feeling of energy”. – Jimmy Cliff.

Little engines that could always make a great subject for a documentary. Those small town stories, where its small town residents defy the odds and take on the big city moguls and money, beating them at their own game. And when that success involves some of the biggest names in music from the last half century or so, you know it’s going to be a story worth watching. Which is exactly what you get with Muscle Shoals.

The self proclaimed, but deservedly so, hit record capital of the world, Muscle Shoals is an otherwise unimposing small town in Alabama, on the banks of the Tennessee River. But ever since a local boy decided to build his own recording studio in the 50s, this otherwise unimposing small town in Alabama, on the banks of the Tennessee River, has cranked out countless hit songs in almost every genre.

That local boy was Rick Hall, and along with his troupe of session musicians, dubbed the Swampers (including bass player David Hood, father of Drive-By Truckers front man, Patterson Hood), they wrote, or produced, or played, or did all three, for the likes of Wilson Picket, The Rolling Stones, Lynard Skynard, the Allman Brothers Band, Aretha Franklin and countless others.

And because every great story needs conflict, Muscle Shoals delivers on that as well. After years of massive hit recorded success with Rick Hall at Fame, LA record mogul Jerry Wexler eventually backed the Swampers in opening their own, rival studio. So with their Muscle Shoals Sound also pumping out the hits, and Hall miraculously finding another band to rival the Swampers, this otherwise unimposing small town in Alabama, on the banks of the Tennessee River, was now home to two of the most successful recording studios in the world.
But Muscle Shoals is more than the story of these musicians and their music. It’s also the story of one of the most tumultuous periods in Amercian history, as the Civil Rights movement reached new levels of tension and violence. While Rick Hall and the Swampers were making music in their little part of Alabama, the state’s Governor, George Wallace, was the kind of intolerant red neck asshole who would give rabble rousing speeches, full of gems like, “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow and segregation forever!”.

And since the highest profile music being made in Muscle Shoals was more often than not coming from black artists, like Aretha Franklin or Wilson Picket, working with the Swampers, an all white band, they were all playing their own part progressing and supporting the Civil Rights movement as well.

Muscle Shoals is a gushing tribute through rose coloured glasses so thick, you can barely make out which talking head is verbally fellating the town and its residents, but that’s OK. These guys and their achievements more than earn this gushing, rose coloured, verbal fellatio. Although, I could have done without Bono. An Irish windbag giving his history lesson on Muscle Shoals and its importance seems kind of empty and shallow, next to the guys who were actually there, making history.

Muscle Shoals
Directed By – Greg ‘Freddy’ Camalier

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