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Mr Lucky
Music Reviews

American Roots Music
Directed by Jim Brown
Narrated by Kris Kristofferson
Palm Video/DVD


[We reviewed the DVD Edition of American Roots Music. There is also a VHS tape version and two CD compilations.]

This four-hour PBS special is a mess of a tour of what director Jim Brown and writer Charles Wolfe consider American Roots music. As far as we know, outside of this video, there is no consensus on what makes one artist "roots" while another not. The video does nothing to help define the genre except maybe that it's music that old Rock stars like. It's pretty but it's useless.

Why is Mexican and Tejano music "roots" when Cuban and Puerto Rican music isn't? How is Western Swing, with its jazz influence, "roots" when apparently Jazz isn't? How are the Blues "roots" when Jazz isn't? B.B. King is a wonderful, influential musician but he's most known for electrifying the Blues. How is this "roots"?

There is no point of view and no perspective, so this ends up being a disjointed mess, even if it's enjoyable to watch the various musicians and vintage clips. But all the performances are highlights that get shoved to the background when narrator Kris Kristofferson needs to return to the script. Worse are the nagging questions that make us conclude that this documentary does more harm than good. How can you mention Western Swing and not mention Milton Brown and His Brownies, the acknowledged founders of the genre? How can you use Bob Wills as an example of Western Swing and then show clips of him performing Texas fiddle music? How can you talk about Woody Guthrie and not mention his more popular (at the time) brother, Jack Guthrie, especially when he had the hit Oklahoma Hills, a great example of the music that inspired both Hillbilly and Folk musicians?

The whole thing has a Baby Boomer-PBS smugness to it. It's an aesthetic, not a genre. With this superficial perspective, it ends up being little more than Easy Listening for a new generation of senior citizens. These musicians deserve much better.


New & Notable

When we first casually listened to Lo' Jo, we thought they were a bad Les Negresses Vertes knock off. This French group does have a whiskey-stained voice, there are accordions and they do sound as if they are having fun, all like Les Negresses Vertes, but after giving their album, Mojo Radio (World Village 468003), a serious listen, it becomes apparent that Lo'Jo has a sound that is distinctively theirs. And it's worth checking out. The influences are primarily from Europe and North Africa but there's a keen sense of theatrics and Popular music that make this a compelling disc.

The late bluesman Jimmy Witherspoon has never gotten his due, as far as we're concerned. Fantasy Records' Original Blues Classics series has recently re-released his Bluespoon, coupled with a pop oddity, Spoon in London (Prestige OBCCD 591-2). Not essential, but the more Witherspoon in print, the better!

Band members and old pals of Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys are making some great Western Swing as Playboys II on the Glad label out of Texas. Their newest is We Remember Tommy Duncan (Glad CD7030). Duncan was a legend and only fellow legend (and Playboys II vocalist) Leon Rausch could do him justice. As with many of these recordings, the sound is too bright but it's a solid set worthy of your attentions.


 



The Martini rating System

Coconut Grove Media


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5 Martinis = Classic
4 Martinis = Great
3 Martinis = Good
2 Martinis = Fair
1 Martini = Poor

 

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