SXSW Film Review: 'Take Me to the River'

The musical history of Memphis runs deep

Good music has the ability to last for generations, but it takes truly great music to bring those generations together.

To tell the story of the Memphis music scene, the documentarians behind Take Me To The River invited icons like guitar-slinger Hubert Sumlin and crooner Bobby "Blue" Bland to step into the recording studio alongside contemporary rappers ranging from the scene-stealing 11-year-old Lil P-Nut to Snoop Dogg.

During the film's best moments, the giddy energy of the recording engineers is contagious, and it truly feels like you're watching a once-in-a-lifetime session. Mavis Staples bounces off the walls with energy, Bobby “Blue” Bland gives a surprisingly effective vocal lesson to Lil P, and Snoop's dog-fatherly wisdom serves as the perfect lynchpin between the generations. But on more than one occasion, the reverence feels phoned-in and the performances underwhelm, leaving the viewer with a nasty hint of false nostalgia.

The filmmakers also include archival footage focusing mainly on the rise and fall of Stax Records, but the contrast creates a somewhat spotty narrative that gets bogged down in the financial problems of the label's later years. Take Me to the River succeeds as a great introduction to the sound of Memphis, but those more interested in the city's musical history than contemporary translations of classic tunes might need to dig a little deeper.

Take Me to the River

24 Beats Per Second, World Premiere
Saturday, March 15, 11am, Paramount

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