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Take Me to the River (A Movie Review)

Updated: Apr 20, 2022

Take Me to the River

Take Me to the River


Featuring Bobby “Blue” Bland, William Bell, Al Bell, Booker T. Jones, Otis Clay, Hubert Sumlin, Mavis Staples, Charles “Skip” Pitts, Lester Snell, The Bar-Kays, Charlie Musselwhite, Terrence Howard, Martin Shore, Cody Dickinson, Luther Dickinson, Lawrence “Boo”Mitchell, Deanie Parker, David Porter, Kirk Whalum, North Mississippi All-Stars, Snoop Dogg, Yo Gotti, Eric Gales, Bobby Rush, 8Ball & MJG, James Alexander, Al Kapone, Stephanie Bolton, Scott Bomar, George Brown Jr, Ben Cauley, City Champs, Chris Chew, Edward “Hot” Cleveland, Larry Dodson, Lil P-Nut, Mark Franklin, Frayser Boy, Al Gamble, Anthony Gentry, Tameka “Big Baby” Goodman, Jerry Harrison, Charles Hodges, Leroy Hodges Jr., Maybon “Teenie” Hodges, David Hood, Amy Levere, Archie Love, Lannie McMillan, Susan Marshall, Sharisse Norman, Shantelle Norman, Steve Potts, Joe Restivo, Hill Country Revue, James Robinson, George Sluppick, Dave Smith, Kirk Smithhart, Kirk Smothers, James Spake, Marvel Thomas, Scott Thompson and Archie “Hubby” Turner .

Written by Sam Reed.

Directed by Martin Shore.

Distributed by Starz Media.  98 minutes.  Rated PG.

Much like last year’s Oscar-winning documentary 20 Feet From Stardom, this good-hearted doc is about some of the unsung names in music history.

While 20 Feet took a look at wonderful backing vocalists whose work transformed some of the classic hits of the 20th Century, Take Me to the River takes a more focused look at unsung musicians from Stax Records, the legendary Memphis, Tennessee label.

Specifically it takes a look at many of the standouts of the famous Stax label and house band, who performed on some of the biggest soul hits of the 60s and 70s by the likes of Al Green, Otis Redding, Booker T. & the MGs, Sam & Dave, Isaac Hayes and many others.

The film is a labor of love for longtime music producer Martin Shore – who directed this film – in which he brought in some of the remaining mainstays of Stax music in to record with a house band of admirers and a series of young rappers.  Sadly, the Reverend Al Green, whose song gives this film its title, was apparently not available for the film.  However, just a few of the classic artists they did get were Bobby “Blue” Bland, Booker T. Jones, Mavis Staples, William Bell, Hubie Sumlin, Otis Clay, Skip Pitts and Charlie Musselwhite.

In between the performances, the film gives a very truncated history of Stax, it’s history in Memphis and how it was eventually destroyed by ethnic tension after the Memphis assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The original artists give some astounding performances, as well giving a nice little view into the history of the music.  The young artists who are brought in are pleasantly awed by their partners, lovingly singing the praises of these seminal influences.  This is particularly heartfelt when Snoop Dogg goes on and on about how much he owes to singers like William Bell, whose song “I Forgot To Be Your Lover” (which was later covered by Billy Idol) smolders in the new performance.  However, honestly, musically the added raps never really add to the songs being performed.

It is quite profound to see the greats playing, and they obviously are having a blast getting to work and teach young kids how to play.  None of the musicians give any really deep insight to the historic import of the music, but they do show a true and infectious love of the process of creating music and their appreciation for their colleagues.

Of course, it’s kind of sad to see a legend like the late Bobby “Blue” Bland hopefully hitting up Yo Gotti for future work in what would end up being his final year.  In fact, a few of these artists end up having died before the film was finished, adding a tragic patina to the celebration of the music.

However, even if it could have definitely dug deeper into its subject, Take Me to the River is a joyous celebration of a musical catalogue that is still astounding.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2014 All rights reserved. Posted: October 6, 2014.

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