Reviewer Dr. Wesley Britton: Dr. Britton is the author of four non-fiction books on espionage in literature and the media. Starting in fall 2015, his new six-book science fiction series, The Beta-Earth Chronicles, debuted via BearManor Media. For seven years, he was co-host of online radio’s Dave White Presents where he contributed interviews with a host of entertainment insiders. Before his retirement in 2016, Dr. Britton taught English at Harrisburg Area Community College. Learn more about Dr. Britton at his WEBSITE
The premise of the film, Take Me to the River, was to create a multi-generational musical documentary saluting the African-American sounds of Memphis. The plan was to bring in young performers and have them team up with the venerable singers and players from times past to see what the collaborations would brew.
I admit, I have yet to see the film and was a bit antsy about hearing the soundtrack. I'm a long-time devotee of the grooves of blues, soul, and Gospel of the good ole days. But I don't want to be in the same room when hip hop or rap is blaring at me. That's not soul.
So I was delighted with a number of tracks on the soundtrack untainted by what Tom Robbins described as "a rhyming dictionary trapped inside a popcorn popper." In particular, I loved the straight-ahead spiritual from Mavis Staples, " Wish I Had Answered" and her pure Delta blues take of "I've Been Buked." Likewise, harmonica master Charlie Musselwhite with the City Champs gives us the sho nuff blues on "If I Should Have Bad Luck" and William Bell revs things up with the '60s soul standard, "Knock On Wood." Only once do we get unadulterated hip hop, the Bar Kays featuring 8Ball and MJG doing "Be Like Me."
The rest of the tracks are blends of the old and new, and the results are a matter of taste. For example, when Bobby "Blue" Bland and Yo Gotti do "Ain't No Sunshine" and William Bell and Snoop Dogg collaborate on "I Forgot to Be Your Lover," the rap sections just break up otherwise beautiful melodies. In other cases, the historic "duets" make the point of the project. There's the appropriately titled "Push and Pull" with Bobby Rush and Frayser Boy going back and forth. When Booker T. and Al Kapone offer "Supposed to Be," they're pretty much tying up the project's themes in one song, that is putting the music and money back in Memphis.
Other songs demonstrate the sense of fun in the proceedings. Otis Clay and P-Nut's "Trying to Live My Life Without You" is a perfect juxtaposition between seasoned vocals and very youthful singing. Bobby Rush and Frayser Boy have fun being funky together on "Henpecked." Finally, Terrence Howard with the Hi Rhythm Section showcases what happens when an old-timer does his own rapping on "Walk Away."
In the end, the recordings gathered here are historic and are a very listenable way to acquaint younger listeners to where it all began. In a sense, the names of newer stars are essentially a means of drawing in their fans to hear the music they've, in many cases, abandoned.
To add another reason to get this album is that the proceeds benefit the Soulsville Foundation which has educational programs and supports their Hart Fund (providing musicians in need) and the Memphis Church Health Center (to help aging musicians with medical, dental, and emergency services). You need more motivation than all this? In so many ways, despite some distracting, annoying moments for aging listeners, and perhaps vice versa, Take Me to the River is an indispensable addition to any musical library.