Robert Mugge has been making documentaries about smaller music genres for some time now and, as it turns out, Sun Ra: A Joyful Noise was one I got the chance to see and thought decent things about. In Rhythm ‘N' Bayous we see Mugge take the viewer on a tour of a sect of music that few are intimately familiar with outside of devotees, in this case the world of Louisianan music. Released initially in 2000, to my knowledge this is its first release to DVD.
The film's genesis has points for its passion; Mugge was hired to film a bus tour of the area that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was leading, but he became so enamored with the music and culture that he decided to make his own film from it. The opening song in the film is sung by Frankie Ford, who sung the popular ‘Sea Cruise' song of the late 1950s, but as Mugge's film goes on to illustrate, the music of Louisiana can be broken down into three regions; the Northern portion, the southwestern portion, and the New Orleans/Baton Rouge portion. The film includes introductions to some of the songs by some of those who perform them but overall, Mugge lets the performances speak for themselves, and the music eventually gives you the chance to see the influences in the various portions of the state.
What is surprising about the film is that it doesn't lean on more familiar faces to perform a song or tell a story, and save for perhaps Ford, almost all of the musicians possibly are anonymous, but you will want to Google them almost immediately after they sing. The big one for me was Henry Butler, a blind jazz pianist whose voice is commanding, almost orchestral when he wants it to be, but he does not hesitate to flip over to any type of music he desires. There is also the Hackberry Ramblers, a group who claims to be the oldest continuously performing group at the time of this film, and they deliver the goods at their age. Be it club performers or a family of three in a kitchen, you get a variety of songs in a variety of settings, with cajun, creole, zydeco, blues, jazz amongst the stars.
Because Mugge keeps interviews to a minimum, he's able to include the viewer as a passenger on his tour and it's done convincingly. I would have preferred more of them to be honest, but it felt like I was at his side when the interviews or introductions were done. You're there to absorb the music jambalaya going on for two hours and if you don't, I'm not completely sure what's wrong with you.The Disc:
The 1.33:1 presentation for the disc is perfectly fine. The image hasn't been enhanced or adjusted in any noticeable way, and the print appears to be a little less than pristine, but still looks decent. Film grain is discernible and colors are reproduced accurately, and the disc does right by the film.The Sound:
LCPM is the word here and the soundtrack transmits the music capably. You don't get a sense of immersion, and any sense of bass or low-end fidelity is nonexistent, but the music is clear, as are the quieter moments of dialogue which bookend it. The soundtrack is free of hissing or chirps and is in the front of the theater, the songs are clean and just as workmanlike as the transfer.Extras:
Nuthin, muffin.Final Thoughts:
I came away from Rhythm ‘N' Bayous knowing a lot more and having a better appreciation about the music of Louisiana than I thought I did, and I think the film could even serve as a pseudo-document for musical history and culture in its straightforward presentation. It could have been better technically but it's ultimately a minor qualm, and the lack of extras wasn't a shock either. Nevertheless, the film is worth checking out.