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

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

Ten Key Moments in Austin's Year With the Coronavirus
Ten Key Moments in Austin's Year With the Coronavirus
The Plague Year

Beth Sullivan, Dec. 18, 2020

Top 10 Arty Ways 2020 Was the Best Year Ever
Top 10 Arty Ways 2020 Was the Best Year Ever
Barbara Purcell shares art highlights from a year that tested our sanity and humanity

Barbara Purcell, Dec. 18, 2020

More by Dan Gentile
The Beach Bum
Fear and loathing in Florida with Korine and Matthew McConaughey

March 29, 2019

SXSW Music Review: Japan/Korea Summit
SXSW Music Review: Japan/Korea Summit
The best of Asian rap and electro for the cost of a Lone Star

March 16, 2019


South by Southwest, SXSW, SXSW 2014, SXSW Film 2014, Take Me to the River, documentary, 24 Beats Per Second, review, Martin Shore, Memphis, Bobby "Blue" Bland, Snoop Dogg

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle