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American Roots Music [DVD]

3.6 out of 5 stars 18 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

Kris Kristofferson narrates this definitive 4 episode documentary series looking at the history of America's popular music; from blues, bluegrass, Cajun through to country and gospel. Features clips of musicians such as Jimmie Rodgers, The Carter Family, Muddy Waters, BB King, Bob Wills, Hank Williams, Bill Monroe, Earl Scruggs, Mahalia Jackson, Clifton Chenier and Woody Guthrie.

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O Brother, wherever thou art, behold what thou and thy kin hath wrought. With the documentary American Roots Music and its spinoffs (including a book and CD collection), producers Jim Brown and Sam Pollard clearly were influenced by the popularity of the 2000 film O Brother, Where Art Thou? and its music. You won't be seeing Eminem and Mariah Carey here, or even Duke Ellington and Ray Charles, but rather a comprehensive, if flawed, four-part documentary examining the various cultural and ethnic folk traditions that blended together to create the rich, multi- flavored brew that is American music.

Narrated by Kris Kristofferson, each of the four parts is a little less than an hour long. Episode One offers a brief overview before detailing topics like the spread of music via Victrolas and radio, the early days of country music and the Grand Ole Opry, the rise of black gospel music, and seminal blues musicians like Son House, Mamie Smith, and Robert Johnson. Episode Two deals with western music (Gene Autry, Bob Wills), Bill Monroe and bluegrass, Hank Williams, Woody Guthrie, and more blues (Leadbelly, Sonny Boy Williamson, B.B. King). Episode Three, perhaps the best of the lot, takes on urban blues (Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf), black spirituals, and the early '60s folk boom, while Episode Four studies Cajun, zydeco and Tex-Mex styles, along with Native American music and more.

The style is standard documentary, with interviews and photos interspersed with new and old live footage. The producers tout the presence of "rare performances" by Guthrie, Waters, Monroe, Clifton Chenier, and many others, and they're fascinating. But for whatever reason (lack of time or maybe lack of faith in viewers' attention spans) none is presented in its entirety. It's a drawback that is remedied to some extent by the addition of six bonus clips (three on each DVD) that are complete, including wonderful vintage films of Western Swing master Bob Wills and the remarkable gospel singer/guitarist Sister Rosetta Tharpe. --Sam Graham


Special Features

  • Includes bonus full-length performances not seen on PBS: "Sitting on Top of the World" (Bob Wills), "Foggy Mountain Breakdown" (Earl Scruggs), "Never No Mo' Blues" (Doc Watson), "Down by the Riverside" (Sister Rosetta Tharpe), "Ossun Two-Step" (Steve Riley), "Rosalito" (Valerio Longoria)

Product Details

  • Format: Multiple Formats, Box set, Black & White, Color, NTSC
  • Language: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 2
  • Rated:
    NR
    Not Rated
  • Studio: Palm Pictures / Umvd
  • DVD Release Date: October 30, 2001
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B00005Q65K
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #23,975 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Lew Harris on November 13, 2001
Format: DVD
As an overview of roots music, it's hard to quibble with this fascinating package. But for real fans, there's one serious, serious problem:
There is some amazing footage that I have never seen, that they have unearthed. Live performances by Leadbelly, by Woody Guthrie, by Howlin' Wolf, by Hank Williams. And unlike Ken Burns' astonishing "Jazz," not only are these rare, rare performances cut horribly short...but the narrators talk over them, so you can't hear the artists' performances.
There are some full-length performances on the DVD that were not on the series when it played on TV..but they were of "lesser" artists, for the most part. Here were legends of the '40s actually captured live--including Leadbelly in prison garb--and they have mutilated the performances. Shame.
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By A Customer on July 6, 2004
Format: DVD
The PBS American Roots Music series - both the 4 part documentary on DVD and 4 CD boxed set - is a commendable work. It is an incredible education in not only popular American music and culture, but history, and should be required viewing and listening in high schools.
Many of the problems in American Society and its youth today stem from a complete lack of pride and self-awareness. A quick survey of popular music and culture reveal a frightening level of ignorance of America's history, values, and ideals. In short, while the series focusses on America's musical traditions, it does a fantastic job of conveying a sense of America's "roots" in a positive, enriching manner.
The DVD documentary strikes a perfect balance between glossing over, and becoming bogged down in, the material. Unlike the Ken Burns' projects that exhaust the viewer's interest and collapse under their own weight, the series is informative and educational, yet entertaining. It is not MEANT to be an exhaustive treatise on the subject - and so some reviewers here are missing the point - that would take 40, not 4, episodes. Rather, it is an introduction and a sampler; peaking our curiosity and prompting us to investigate and research further the wonderful heritage of music out there. And in that, it succeeds marvelously.
What also impressed me was the documentary's remarkable objectivity. While it eschews political correctness, it doesn't necessarily candy coat anything either. What it does do is present the material in a respectful, thoughtful, intelligent, and unbiased manner - something so lacking in today's political and social discourse.
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Format: DVD
The premise is good, the DVD cover looks promising--but ultimately I found it to be a disappointment. Nothing about it was particularly "bad"--but it didn't go deep enough. For example, Blues is supposedly covered here. OK, where did 12 bar blues come from? This DVD won't tell you. Bluegrass is similarly "covered" Where did bluegrass come from? Doesn't say--except that Bill Monroe suddenly started playing it in the 40's. That's a common theme. Nothing grew out of something else--people just suddenly started playing it! Out of nowhere! What's the role of British Isles folk tunes in the formation of American Folk Music? Lips sealed! They don't even mention it. They do slightly better with spirituals, tracing its genesis in slave songs, but they spend too much time on (and this is true of all musics they cover) whoever the current popularizers are of the genre. They hardly cover what the major themes are, or why they are still relevant today. They have a large roster of current musicians gushing about why their forerunners were so awesome and special, but nothing particularly interesting gets uncovered.

A main subject in the first installment was Jimmy Rodgers. Where did he learn how to play? This DVD won't tell you. What were his influences? No idea. They mention his yodeling. Who did he model that after? Not worth mentioning. Its like this for every musician they profile. Important parts are left blank. Even the most basic aspects of their lives frequently aren't worth discussing, let alone elaborating on. Instead, you get a glossy, greatest hits run-through. A previous reviewer compares this approach FAVORABLY to the much more comprehensive Ken Burns approach. I couldn't disagree more. I found myself wishing, constantly, for the deeper approach. Considering how many prominent artists they interviewed as well as all the classic footage provided, I can't help but think that this was a wasted opportunity.
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Format: DVD Verified Purchase
NOTE: PLEASE EXCUSE MY USE OF CAPITAL LETTERS ON THIS REVIEW. I WROTE THIS REVIEW BEFORE I LEARNED THAT IT'S NOT PROPER COMPUTER ETIQUETTE.

THIS IS A VERY COMPREHENSIVE, VERY AUTHORITATIVE , AND VERY HISTORICAL DOCUMENTARY OF AMERICAN ROOTS MUSIC. THIS DOCUMENTARY CONTAINS A WEALTH OF AMERICAN MUSIC HISTORY AND THE PIONEERING ARTISTS WHO LAID THE FOUNDATION FOR AMERICAN MUSIC!!! THIS IS A 4 HOUR, 4 EPISODE 2 DISC DOCUMENTARY WITH HISTORICAL PARTIAL PERFORMANCES, AND/OR COMMENTARY ON SUCH ARTISTS AS: JIMMIE RODGERS (THE FATHER OF COUNTRY MUSIC), THE CARTER FAMILY (THE FIRST FAMILY OF COUNTRY MUSIC), MUDDY WATERS (A LEGENDARY BLUESMAN), B.B.KING (A LIVING LEGEND OF THE BLUES), BOB WILLS (KING OF WESTERN SWING), HANK WILLIAMS (KING OF COUNTRY MUSIC), BILL MONROE (A LEGENDARY BLUEGRASS MUSICAN), EARL SCRUGGS (A LEGENDARY BLUEGRASS MUSICIAN), MAHALIA JACKSON (A SOUL MUSIC QUEEN), CHIFTON CHENIER (THE KING OF ZYDECO), WOODY GUTHRIE (A FOLK MUSIC PIONEER), AND MANY, MANY MORE!!!!

YOU GET COMMENTARIES BY MARTY STUART, GILLIAN WELCH (OF OF THE O BROTHER ART THOU MOVIE), RICKY SCAGGS, RUFUS THOMAS, BONNIE RAITT, MAVIS STAPLES, DOYLE LAWSON, RAPLH STANLEY, ARLO GUTHRIE, KEITH RICHARDS, SAM PHILLIPS, MERLE HAGGARD, BENICE JOHNSON, ROBERT MIRABAL AND MANY OTHERS.

EPISODE 1:
1.THE FISK JUBILEE SINGERS (THESE WERE AFRICAN AMERICAN SINGERS, WHO WERE IN COLLEGE, AND THEY SUNG SPIRITAL MUSIC, TO SUPPORT THEIR COLLEGE, THEY EVEN TRAVELED ACROSS THE COUNTRY PUTTING ON SHOWS THAT WERE WELL RECEIVED BY BOTH BLACK AND WHITE AUDIENCES. THEY STARTED AROUND THE 1870' BEFORE THERE WAS RECORDED MUSIC).

1. RECORDED MUSIC: A DOUMENTARY OF THE BEGINNING OF RECORDED MUSIC.

2.
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