Category Archives: film reviews

‘Miss Sharon Jones-Cultural Reflections from

Sharon Jones

Cultural Reflections
“Miss Sharon Jones” an exceptional story
By Ron Wynn

Oscar-winning filmmaker Barbara Kopple’s newest documentary “Miss Sharon Jones” is an exceptional tale of triumph and perseverance in the face of recurring obstacles, as well as a chronicle of the way things work for independent musicians and bands in the 21st century. Jones and the Dap-Kings, a New York ensemble who’ve become quite popular on the neo-soul and contemporary R&B circuit despite never having any radio hits or selling large numbers of albums, are spotlighted during a key three-year period between 2013 and the present when they were trying to maintain momentum from previous acclaimed releases and tours. But during this time frame, Jones finds herself battling pancreatic cancer, enduring multiple procedures and having to take time away from recording and touring each time to rebuild her strength and regain her stamina. Simultaneously she battles guilt feelings over being the reason why her band members have to deal with layoffs and lost pay because she’s unable to work.

Kopple doesn’t sugarcoat or obscure any of the tough moments during Jones’ battles. The audience sees her occasionally discouraged, downcast and irritable, as well as pensive because she also is dealing with the recent loss of her mother and the fact that she never got to really see that her daughter did become a successful performer.  Dismissed frequently for being too short, unattractive, even too dark, she didn’t even have her first LP released until she was 40. At one time she worked as a prison guard. Yet through all the struggles and despite the negative claims of some critics, she and the Dap-Kings persisted, and the band’s ultimate victories are seen late in the film as they appear on national and syndicated programs like “Ellen” and “The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon.”

The assistance of holistic nutrionist Megan Holken proves especially vital, as her efforts and those of manager Alex Kadvan and assistant manager Austen Holman help Jones maintain her spirit during the lowest moments. She also returns to her Augusta, Georgia hometown to relive old memories (both good and bad), do some fishing, and recall the impact that the great James Brown had on her. He was an inspiration and mentor, and she cites his message to her as among the things she always recalls in times of need.

The film also segues into other timely aspects of Jones’ life, among them an incredible performance that she gives at her church, where the spiritual side of her personality comes across just as vividly as the soul diva/R&B shouter side does in concert. The finale, a sold-out comeback concert at the Beacon Theatre, with Jones’ returning to her adopted New York home. She’s initially worried that she won’t be up to the challenge, but then shows in a decisive and memorable opening number that she’s not only back in form, but even more intense and determined to succeed.

Whether this earns Barbara Kopple a third Oscar win or not, “Miss Sharon Jones” is every bit as powerful and magnificent as anything she’s ever done, and a superb story about a singer and band who’s defied both professional and medical odds and won both times.

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Filed under 2016, Barbara Kopple, Contemporary R&B, film reviews, musical documentary, Neo Soul, Ron Wynn, Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings

Jazz Plus 1: Rhythm & Bayous,Will Downing & The Terry Hanck Band

Rhythm & BayousJazz Plus

New DVD spotlights Louisiana’s music excellence
By Ron Wynn
“Rhythm ‘N’ Bayous” (MVD, 120 minutes)
The Louisiana music experience epitomizes the scope and vitality of this nation’s cultural heritage, and ace filmmaker Robert Mugge’s new DVD “Rhythm ‘N’ Bayous” showcases those qualities in marvelous fashion  What was initially supposed to be a travelogue feature documenting a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame bus trip instead evolved into a comprehensive documentary with a host of informative interviews, reflections and encounters. Mugge dispenses with the bus trip portion via some early foundation footage that establishes the film’s premise. It is a series of visits to key locales across the state, plus interviews with knowledgeable experts, and most importantly, unforgettable performances from numerous Louisiana artists.
The film’s divided into three sections covering Northern Louisiana, New Orleans/Baton Rouge and the Southwestern region. There are stops at clubs, churches, record stores, and other key locations that collectively comprise key aspects of Louisiana’s amazing musical tapestry. The marvelous musical selections include blues, R&B, swamp pop, gospel, Cajun, Zydeco, jazzand rock, all delivered with an urgency and energy that comes only from those making music that live and love it, as opposed to cranking out whatever’s in vogue for strictly commercial purposes.
Kermit Ruffins, Frankie Ford, Rosie Ledet, Dale Hawkins, Henry Gray, Henry Butler, Nathan Williams, Warren Storm, Claude King, Hackberry Ramblers, La Famille Viator, and Rod Bernard are among the distinguished lineup. As with all his musical presentations, Mugge provides a stunning, comprehensive and varied portrait. Ford’s “Roberta” helps jump start things, while those who’ve either grown up in or experienced fervent church worship will be totally engaged by the marvelous Ever Ready Singers.
But it’s just as revealing to see lesser known acts like La Famile Viator, a family group whose young kids are doing traditional Cajun music with the identical flair and detail of grizzled veterans, or see personalities like legendary gospel DJ Sister Pearlee Toliver, doing the kind of programming that was once available on Black radio everywhere, but now can only be heard on a handful of legacy stations.
No matter your preference, there’s something you’ll enjoy hearing at some point on “Rhythm ‘N’ Bayous.” The disc also delves into distinctive areas of regional interest, like the “Easter Rock” celebration that combines a religious observance with a dance/stepping tradition. He also spotlights newer artists such as Lil’ Bryan and Lil’ Alfred extending and tweaking vintage styles, and venerable types like Henry Gray, who’s returned home to Louisiana after spending decades in Chicago backing the greats of modern blues.
Although there’s quite like personally visiting these Louisiana sites, the next best thing is seeing them and hearing the music soar the way it does throughout “Rhythm ‘N’ Bayous.
CD reviews
Will Downing – “Black Pearls” (Shanachie)
Will Downing
Downing’s first release in six years pays homage to women vocalists he’s idolized. Thankfully, he’s also won his battle with the auto immune disease Polymyositis, and is again singing with the robust sound and soulful ardor that characterized his past releases. It’s a treat to hear his approach on tunes previously done by vocalists ranging from Cherelle to Deniece Williams, Phyllis Hyman and others. Personal favorites include his soothing version of the Emotions “Don’t Ask My Neighbors,” a masterful interpretation of Brenda Russell’s “Get Here,” and a dazzling rendition of Williams’ “Black Butterfly.” Even tunes equally notable the first time around for dynamic arrangements (Cherelle’s “Everything I Miss At Home” and The Jones Girls’ “Nights Over Egypt,”) prove just as engaging and effective numbers when done as in Downing’s smoother, less driving fashion. His version of “Street Life” is slicker than Randy Crawford’s, but just as emphatic. Najee and Kirk Whalum add crisp sax assistance on “Street Life,” and atmospheric flute interludes on “Nights Over Egypt.” Downing is at his sensual best on “Meet Me On The Moon,” a suiting tribute to Hyman, and increases his ardor while reworking the Chaka Khan and Rufus number “”Everlasting Love.” “Black Pearls” proves a solid return for Will Downing, and is ample evidence he’s back in form and still an tremendous pure singer.,
The Terry Hanck Band – “From Roadhouse To Your House: Live” (Vizztone/TVR)
Terry Hanck
Saxophonist/vocalist and bandleader Terry Hanck’s Band seamlessly blends rocking blues, roadhouse R&B, soul covers and even a throwback tune or two in a rousing live session cut last year at the California State Fair. Hanck’s tenor sax style blends hot licks and high register effects with expressive melodic interpretations and fiery lines, while he’s an effective, alternately comical and earnest vocalist. The band’s best covers include solid versions of Clarence Carter’s “Slip Away,” Tyrone Davis’ “Can I Change My Mind” and the Louis Jordan war-of-the-sexes piece “Ain’t That Just Like A Woman.” The top originals are the surging opener “Good Good Rockin’ Goin’ On,” a testimonial to Junior Walker (“Junior’s Walk”) and “Peace Of Mind.” Besides Hanck, the tight group’s other stirring soloists include guitarist Johnny “Cat” Soubrand and masterful special guest Jimmy Pugh on an array of keyboards. The rhythm section of bassist Tim Wagar and drummer Butch Cousins keep the grooves tight and fluid, and the Terry Hanck Band offer 13 mostly engaging performances that show why they’re 2016 Blues Award winners.

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Filed under 2016, Blues, CD's, film reviews, Louisiana, Music Reviewing, musical documentary, rhythm & blues, Robert Mugge, Soul, The Terry Hanck Band, Uncategorized, Will Downing