To hear Bono talk, the Alabama city of Muscle Shoals is a holy place conducive to magic and alchemy. Granted, the Irishman could probably wax equally rhapsodic about a digestive cookie. So, it's a good thing the riverside city has the hymns to back up his assertion. Classics like Percy Sledge's “When a Man Loves a Woman” and Aretha Franklin's “Respect” were recorded within FAME Studios' unassuming walls, produced by Rick Hall and propelled by the Swampers, a powerhouse backing band with all the aura of farmhands. But first-time director Greg Camalier rarely delves into the actual recording of these staples. Frequently, we glimpse keyboardist Spooner Oldham coaxing out a few skeletal chords before the finished track bursts forth fully formed. While this practice ensures that such hallowed tunes as the Rolling Stones' “Wild Horses” are never reduced to multiple takes and overdubs, it’s too cursory of an approach. Camalier gives short shrift to both Hall's tragic backstory and his falling out with the Swampers, instead trotting out more effusive talking heads. (You'll be hard-pressed to recall seeing Keith Richards this [re]animated.) And yet, the film possesses considerable persuasive power despite its modest substance and simple construction, making it very much like the timeless songs it showcases.
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