Reviews

Film Review: The Winding Stream (2014, Beth Harrington)

Posted on by Paul in Hot Docs, Movies | Leave a comment

The Winding Stream is a charming and informative look into the lives and careers of The Carter Family, from their humble origins to the great influence that they continue to have in the world of folk and country music. Their influence is made clear from the number of musicians interviewed for this doc, with the likes of Joe Ely, Jim Lauderdale, Murray Hammond, Mike Seeger, The Carolina Chocolate Drops, and Jeff Hanna of The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band all offering up some words on the band’s history and significance. As Ely puts it, “People should know who they are just like they should know who the first president of the United States is.”

While the full title of the film is The Winding Stream: The Carters, The Cashes and the Course of Country Music, the film focuses mostly on the Carters. Not that the Cash family doesn’t play an important part – Roseanne and John Carter Cash as well as Johnny himself are featured in interviews throughout and one of the more memorable moments was watching Johnny speak sweetly about the first time he met and fell for June Carter – but this is largely the Carter Family’s story. And it is quite the story. Through interviews and some archival footage, their story unfolds – their first recording sessions, their rise to fame, and the effect it had on their lives (A.P. and Sara Carter eventually divorced). The film also touches on A.P. Carter’s savvy and somewhat opportunistic idea to travel around collecting old songs, which he would then pass off as his own for the sake of collecting royalties. Looking back at it now, it seems a little shady, though as Roseanne Cash points out, these songs would have faded into obscurity had he not done so.

The Winding Stream is a compelling look at one of the most important, influential groups in the history of country music and well worth watching for both the novice and the hardcore Carter Family fans.

The Winding Stream will be showing at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema until April 14.

Hot Docs Review: City of Gold (2016, Laura Gabbert)

Posted on by Ricky in Hot Docs | Leave a comment

cityofgold

City of Gold is a charming love letter to both the city of Los Angeles as well as Jonathan Gold, one of the most accomplished writers in the world of culinary writing. Known for weaving cultural stories around his food reviews, the documentary shows how Jonathan Gold’s writing has not only transformed food writing but also in many ways, the city of Los Angeles and it’s citizens. Watching the documentary, you realize that the democratic sense that Gold has in reviewing restaurants (treating food trucks with the same respect as high price restaurants) opened up the large and complicated city of Los Angeles to experience foods of all sorts. It’s hard to imagine a time when people didn’t go out of their way to eat some random taco at a dive bar, but that was pretty much the norm before this past decade. It would seem that Gold’s reviews had a huge influence on this movement.

As with any biographical documentary, the doc is only as interesting or charming as it’s protagonist and Jonathan Gold seems like a completely nice guy with an interesting and varied past (he also wrote about music for Rolling Stone before). In fact, the absence of any real conflict in his life actually provides a stark contrast to most documentaries. I’m not saying the film is lacking in drama, but with most doc’s, I kind of expect some sort of “AND THAT’S WHEN THE DRUG ADDICTION KICKED IN” part that never came.

The film features glorious shots of not only Los Angeles, but also, a lot of very tasty food being cooked. Be forewarned, that butter drenched popcorn you are holding while watching this will feel vastly inferior to what’s on the screen.

Overall, an enjoyable documentary that will make you rather hungry at the end.

SXSW Review: Bayonne, March 18, Victorian Room at The Driskill

Posted on by Gary in Concerts, Reviews, South By Southwest | Leave a comment

Bayonne

I have heard less enthusiastic opening chants to an audience than “Do you guys still have any energy left?” But then again only from acts that I would walk out on half way through. So it didn’t look good on Bayonne when he sheepishly asked that question minutes into his electronica set at the Victoria Room at Driskill. The answer was plainly obvious: anyone who braved the craze on 6th street at 1159PM on Friday night in order to see a show was determined to be there. That the crowd consisted of a continuum between high school prom queens and mathematics professors probably reflects the other half of that question. It was likely just as clear from the stage: we should endeavour to be a more energetic bunch.

Bayonne, as I mentioned in my preview, is the stage name of Roger Sellers. His genre of music had its inception in the early 90s, when electronics became powerful enough to enable live-looping. Drawing from the sounds and melody created using sequencer, synthesizer, vocal and drums, Bayonne loops and samples in order to compose a fully formed song right in front of the audience. While the multi-instrumentalist does everything himself, it’s not gawdy like the imagery of a circus one-man band would suggest. This being an electronic form in a live setting, however, it forces one to ask an obvious question – how much of the pieces were pre-made? What is it that the audience gets out of the “performance” of a song compared to the rendering of a song live? Does it matter?

Bayonne

As we watched, the pieces fell into place and the composition took shape at an exponential rate. I could see that while the error margins might be more tolerant than for a traditional singer-songwriter, it nonetheless takes careful thought and effort to piece together the components. The recording nature led to a natural progression for every piece – background melody, drums, vocal, almost invariably in that order. It’s almost like cooking. Once all the ingredients are in hand, Bayonne the chef mixed them perfectly into a complex stew worthy of your attention. They were beaming, flowing pieces with catchy hooks and rhythms, and a clear progression. Bayonne does very little, as far as I could tell, with the vocals. While they remain distinct, I had a feeling that lyrics were secondary. At first glance, I found that there were too many voices for it to be cohesive. But pieces like “Spectrolite” and “Waves” really do stick with you. All of the tracks are now on the album, Primitives. If you have a superhuman brain that could track 4 separate melodic/percussion lines and remain completely cognizant of each, you’d be bored to death of the repeating nature. But if you’re most people and have the patience for Bayonne to finish moulding, the results will be far more rewarding than you think.

SXSW Review: Robert Ellis, Sarah Jarosz, March 17, St. David’s Historic Sanctuary

Posted on by Gary in Concerts, Everything, Reviews, South By Southwest | Leave a comment

Robert Ellis
A night for Americana (the music, not plastic items in antique collector’s cabinet) is never a bad idea at SXSW. Because there are great venues all along 6th street that at any other time should be amply full of tamer crowds of appreciative adults. But times have changed, and SXSW has been slowly devolving into just a checkmark on the rave calendar of teenagers. And so the less flashy and more substantive acts have been forced to move to quieter settings. This is the main reason why I can be found at the Sanctuary almost every SXSW, unless I feel the need to battle teenage antics for the music.

Robert Ellis has been performing since 2005, but only found a wider audience after having been mentioned by industry magazines. This night he played from his recent, 2014 album, The Lights From the Chemical Plant. With such a title, you would rightly expect a tinge of sarcasm that runs through the lyrics. Ellis has a twangy but thin voice, making those lyrics especially clear and meditative. There wasn’t over-the-top, emotional bellowing, and it’s really not necessary. The memorable numbers, I found, were “Only Lies,” “Bottle of Wine,” and “Elephants,” a new song that hasn’t been collected in an album. While the first two were more traditional folk/country pieces full of earnest story-telling that celebrates the ugly and pragmatic side of life, “Elephants” sees the cynicism seep even deeper into the melody. I look forward to hearing more of its like on Ellis’ new effort. Sarah Jarosz

When I last saw the Grammy-nominated artist Sarah Jarosz, there was a pane of liquid-crystal display and a time dislocation of one year separating our realities. It was a recorded Austin City Limits (ACL) broadcast on PBS, when she performed with the Milk Carton Kids (also memorable). Since her last album, Build Me Up From Bones, she has moved to NYC to pursue a new sound, and in the soon to be released Undercurrent, I’d say she has certainly found more variety to express her music. Obvious by the home-crowd support, she’s very comfortable performing in Austin TX, and covered quite a few songs from the upcoming album. There is still her brand of ye’olde construct floating through songs like “House of Mercy,” but then there is another, softer expression that worked well in a number where she collaborated with Aoife O’Donovan.

I’d recommend seeing her concerts whenever you get the chance. Not only is her singing voice powerful and resounding, her guitar (and yes, banjo) playing is crisp and superb. Case in point – her take on Bob Dylan’s often covered “Ring Them Bells” – the apt song by which she ended this session (because it’s in a church space called “Sanctuary”). Even without the crooked, world-weariness required by the lyrics, she manages to take another perspective and drive those lyrics home in an almost hopeful manner. While that dulled the cynicism built-up from Ellis’ concert just a little, stepping out of the Sanctuary and seeing the gathering mob was all it took to send me straight back into meditation. Or perhaps ignorance?

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