Saturday, December 09, 2006

A Hole in Your Soul

An accidental trip to Blockbuster tonight led me to stumble upon Lightning in a Bottle: A One-Night History of the Blues. (It was one of three, yes three, concert DVDs they had at Blockbuster. No wonder Netflix is kicking their ass.)

The concert aims to be a loose chronological history of the blues in musical form, juxtaposing photos and video of African American life in the 1920s and 1930s with interviews with the old-time blues legends and the inimitable blues music itself. (Looking at photos of the Ku Klux Klan burning crosses as you listen to Odetta sing "Jim Crow Blues" is very, very powerful.)

The DVD was executive-produced by Martin Scorcese with famed drummer Steve Jordan (most recently of the John Mayer Trio) as musical director, and probably because of this, there are very few false moments. I will say that Natalie Cole brings an overly-theatrical Broadway version of the blues to everything she sings and Chuck D of Public Enemy absolutely butchers John Lee Hooker's masterpiece "Boom Boom" by turning it into an anti-war statement ("No More Boom Boom",) but these moments are few and far between. For the most part, this DVD showcases the blues legends in their element, grittily singing the songs that made them indispensable icons of the art form that is music.

From the opening note sustained by African vocalist Angelique Kidjo to India.Arie's haunting rendition of the lynching ballad "Strange Fruit" to Solomon Burke's triumphant "Turn On Your Lovelight" to B.B. King leading the big finale "Paying the Cost to Be the Boss," this is a blues tour-de-force. Netflix it now.

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