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Sundance London 2013: Muscle Shoals - Review

Muscle Shoals

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

WITHIN music industry circles, Muscle Shoals is a place to be revered. Yet its place in music history might not be so apparent to those not in the know.

A town in Alabama, Muscle Shoals is currently home to two great recording studios, FAME Studios and Muscle Shoals Sound. Its legacy includes some of the finest songs ever to be recorded, from Percy Sledge’s When A Man Loves A Woman to Aretha Franklin’s Respect to The Rolling Stones’ Wild Horses and Brown Sugar.

Greg Camalier’s compelling documentary chronicles the history of these studios and features interviews with the founders and some of the legendary musicians who have recorded there, including Sledge, Franklin, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Bono, Greg Allman and Alicia Keys.

It’s a documentary as rich in great anecdotes and unknown stories as it is in brilliant music and one that inspires on many levels. It also celebrates the unifying power of music.

The story of how Muscle Shoals came to be is fascinating and born from both tragedy and hardship, as exemplified by the story of Rick Hall, the main creative force behind it.

Hall emerged from a tragic upbringing and plenty of rejection to become one of the most powerful and creative forces in music.

While his session players, The Swampers (a surprisingly white trio of instrumentalists in spite of their rich R&B sound), also came to be recognised as recording pioneers and innovators – and, for many years, Hall’s closest [and bitterest] rivals.

Camalier intersperses these stories with anecdotes and archive photos and footage from the many artists who recorded there, several of which give rise to some truly amusing memories, whether it’s the Stones recalling their experience of being at their most prolific, Allman recalling a prank that backfired on his brother or Sledge recounting how he came to record his most famous record.

For music lovers in particular, this offers a veritable treasure trove. But even for those with only a passing appreciation of music history, there is plenty to savour.

Muscle Shoals is an affectionate, often inspiring, sometimes tragic, always moving and finally celebratory tribute to one of the most important locations in music history.

Muscle Shoals is at Sundance London on Thursday, April 25 (5.30 pm); Saturday, April 27 (6pm) and Sunday, April 28 (2.30pm).