Throw together some top-shelf bluegrass, some cornball humor, and some cooking tips. Stir in praise of Martha White’s lip-smacking plate of biscuits. Add the general store and log cabin backdrops. And for a bit of spice, include a dash of the fact that the Nashville address they display for recipe requests doesn’t even include a zip code. Then let the music heat things up. It all makes for a delicious set of shows. As the announcer says, “Goodness gracious, it’s good!”
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There are actually two Stax Records stories. The first is of the mid-‘60s, when they defined soul music before tragedy and a sudden collapse. The second is of their rise up from those ashes to become a player in the post-Black Power funk era, and of a second, crippling financial controversy. This Samuel L. Jackson-narrated doc, although a little sketchy on some of the details, delivers both stories with vibrant interviews, including label co-founder Jim Stewart and Otis Redding’s wife Zelda. But feel free to skip the history lesson and enjoy the steady stream of rare concert and TV footage starring Redding, Sam and Dave, Isaac Hayes, the Staple Singers, and many soulful more.
These Johnny Cash Christmas Specials offer a country music time capsule from the 1970s. Belting out songs of the season with his usual suspects, Carl Perkins, the Carter Family, and the Statler Brothers, Cash the genial host is in fine voice. The specials highlight popular singers from the time (Tony Orlando, Barbara Mandrell) but also lively folk traditions and country chestnuts (Stephen Foster songs, Gene Autry’s Christmas hits like “Frosty the Snow Man”). Cash gives a tour of his Tennessee farm and welcomes viewers into his home for a “guitar pullin’” with his family and friends, replete with an inspirational story from Billy Graham. The stand out is the 1977 special from the Grand Ole Opry House, with his fiery duets with June Carter Cash and a truly historic tribute to Elvis, who had recently passed away, in which Cash’s fellow Sun Studio stars Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Roy Orbison join him, appropriately, for a gospel number, “This Train is Bound for Glory”. Available on DVD for the first time since they aired, these two hour-long specials area must-have for Cash loyalists but should also interest music fans more generally.
The Dixie Chicks’ sweep of the Grammy Awards seemed a vindication of their decision not to “make nice” with their erstwhile country fans. Seeing themselves as the Post-Comment Dixie Chicks, they reframe the controversy as a matter of free speech. This film shows their healthy integration of professional and personal politics, and also makes clear the significance of the Chicks in broader contexts including free speech, the growing anti-war movement, and their experience as women in the music industry.
The Lips are like Fun Dip for the senses, top to bottom. Having continuously ramped up their unique brand of psychedelia, it’s no surprise that Lips founder Wayne Coyne has finally tried the impossible: To capture on film the sound and the fury that is a Flaming Lips show. Loyalists will rejoice, as this is the band’s first ever live release—and it’s a good thing, since Coyne, now 46, is graying like a man who hasn’t slept in months.