It’s rare I write about things not directly related to the Internet industry, but the film Take Me To The River, a multi-year project helmed by my friend and colleague Martin Shore, is certainly worthy of a detour. If you love music, any kind of music, this film is a must.
Martin first told me about this project more than five years ago, back then, it was going to be an album bringing together R&B legends with emerging rap artists from the Memphis area. But as he began to produce the tracks, a film emerged, one that not only tells the extraordinary musical stories, but also the story of America itself, an America that still struggles with issues of race and inequality.
Memphis is the heart of American music, from its fertile and conflicted soils have sprung some of the most influential artists in rock and roll – from Elvis to Britney, Al Green to Isaac Hayes, Booker T to the Staples Singers. But Memphis is also a network, an ecosystem, and a feeling – a place that created Stax Records, the Royal Studios, Zebra Ranch, and “the Memphis sound”, and a place where America experienced the most jolting pain of its ever-present race issue – the murder of Martin Luther King, to name only the most poignant milestone in Memphis’ history.
But if you are concerned the film might be preachy or dull, you’re entirely mistaken. Instead it is uplifting and emotional. If you ever wondered how Snoop Dogg gets his chops on, you’ll see it in this film, as he executes an impromptu duet with legend William Bell on Bell’s classic “I Forgot To Be Your Lover.” And you meet deeply soulful characters like Skip Pitts, one of the most celebrated blues guitarists in the world, as he interacts with Little P’nut, a young rap star. The result is both funny and touching, I choked up when the film noted Skip’s passing just months after recording that final session for the movie. In fact, several other Memphis legends passed away in the year between the film’s shooting and its final cut. Driven by an internal urgency that I could always sense each time I saw him over the past few years, Shore has managed to capture a piece of American music history that will live forever. The final scene – a collaboration between quintessential blues/gospel singer Mavis Staples and the genius talents of young musicians Luther and Cody Dickinson, is just brilliant and joyful. It left me happy to be alive.
Take Me to the River is debuting in San Francisco this Friday, and from there it opens across the States. Every once in a while a film comes along that reminds us why we care so much about human connections. This is one of them. Highly recommended.
PS – For a taste of the Zebra Ranch, here’s notes from my only visit to the place, with Martin, back in 2007.