Like the new documentary that inspired it, Saturday afternoon’s all-star Take Me to the River revue at Butler Park as part of SXSW’s free concert series celebrated the musical traditions of Memphis by teaming veteran R&B and blues performers and players with young rappers and singers.
The film’s theme of the Memphis music scene having fostered racial harmony was reflected in the show’s tightly packed, racially diverse audience, which consisted largely of teens and twentysomethings who were apparently there to see non-Memphian ringer Snoop Dogg, yet who proved remarkably receptive to the older soul artists.
While prior shotgun marriages between soul and hip-hop have produced less-than-stellar results, the collaborations on this warm afternoon were consistently organic and effective. Among the standout moments were Otis Clay teaming with Hi Records producer Willie Mitchell’s rapping great-grandson for a punchy “Tryin’ to Live My Life Without You.”
Other highlights included Booker T. Jones’ expansive take on his iconic MGs instrumental “Green Onions,” blues harmonica great Charlie Musselwhite trading licks with the North Mississippi Allstars’ Luther Dickinson, and Memphis rap icon Al Kapone delivering a pair of rousing new numbers celebrating his hometown and its music.
Yet it was Snoop Dogg’s duet with the great singer-songwriter William Bell on an impassioned update of the latter’s 1968 hit “I Forgot to Be Your Lover” that really brought the house down, as did an ecstatically received, extended big-band take on Snoop’s anthemic hit “Gin and Juice.”
Eccentric soul genius Syl Johnson got the set back on conceptual track for its finale, a thunderous reading of the Al Green-penned tune that gives the movie its name.
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