Where does exceptional music come from? Solo creative genius has a lot to do with it, but sometimes it’s more complex than that. This engrossing doc outlines the story of a tiny rural community whose studios delivered screeds of classic recordings. Muscle Shoals, Alabama, is where Aretha Franklin and Percy Sledge found their deep soul groove; where The Rolling Stones tasted ‘Brown Sugar’; where Southern rockers Lynyrd Skynyrd made their name; and even where Jimmy Cliff brought reggae to the pop charts.
This thoroughly researched mix of archive footage and fresh interviewees (including Aretha, Steve Winwood and Gregg Allman) unpicks the unique combination of circumstances and personalities that made it all happen, driven by the perfectionism of studio owner Rick Hall and the blackest-sounding all-white band on the planet. Personal tragedies, betrayal and the racial tensions of the civil rights years are overcome in the service of the music, yet those same traumatic experiences remain in the very fibre of the songs. Occasionally baggy, always sincere, this is an essential document of a defining era when ‘soul’ really meant something.