Various: Music from The American Epic Sessions

review epic x1 congWe thought Old Crow Medicine Show doing Blonde on Blonde live in Nashville was pretty cool but this is even better.

The backstory is that it’s a television documentary on the early days of music. In the 1920s, as radio took over the pop music business, record companies took to the road to find new talent, from country singers in the Appalachians to blues guitarists in the Mississippi Delta, and from Cajun fiddlers in Louisiana to Native American drummers. Nearly 90% of the recording masters have now been destroyed, as has the equipment. The American Epic people rebuilt the kit and re-recorded the music.

It’s a single microphone, a six-foot amplifier rack and a live record-cutting lathe, powered by weights and levers. You pull up the weight and sing in the mic, and you have until the weight hits the floor three minutes later to record, live. They confess to post-weight-hits-floor engineering, but it’s basically one take. It’s impressive, and it contains enough of the antique feel to be quaint, and just enough studio engineering to sound good to modern ears.

Producers T Bone Burnett and (predictably) Jack White line up a roster of stars in front of the mic to sing the old songs, and it works a treat. There’s blues, folk, hillbilly, Spanish and what sounds like Cuban son, mostly performed by stars.

Alabama Shakes open, and Elton John is soon after, sounding like you’ve never heard him before. Some songs are immediately likable, others surprisingly good: rapper Nas is hypnotic in On the Road Again, although he can’t really sing. We’ve got a double CD so there are too many songs to list, and the full package is 100 songs. As well as Elton John and Jack White, people performing include Steve Martin and Edie Brickell, Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard, Los Lobos, The Avett Brothers, Beck, Taj Mahal and The Hawaiians. A treat for lovers of blues, roots and geeky, cool stuff.

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  1. The Americans: I’ll Be Yours – Review Corner

    […] Los Angeles and worked with Jack White and T Bone Burnett on the documentary American Epic, the soundtrack for which we reviewed. They’ve also played backing for a band made up of Lucinda Williams, Nick […]

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