Lightning In A Bottle

"It's wonderful to get together with all these old friends and not be at a funeral," declares 75-year-old singer Ruth Brown, summing up the backstage atmosphere at the February 7, 2003 "Salute to the Blues" concert at New York's Radio City Music Hall. Action director Antoine Fuqua's reverent but uninspired documentary preserves this once-in-a-lifetime combination...read more

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Reviewed by Maitland McDonagh
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"It's wonderful to get together with all these old friends and not be at a funeral," declares 75-year-old singer Ruth Brown, summing up the backstage atmosphere at the February 7, 2003 "Salute to the Blues" concert at New York's Radio City Music Hall. Action director Antoine Fuqua's reverent but uninspired documentary preserves this once-in-a-lifetime combination of performances, many delivered by musicians whose age and infirmity are sadly evident. Brown's own vigorous performance of the rousing lament "Mama (He Treats Your Daughter Mean)" is all the more amazing in light of the fact that in 2000 Brown suffered a stroke that temporarily robbed her of the ability to speak, let alone sing. The concert was designed to chart the history and development of the blues, beginning with Angelique Kidjo's traditional rendition of "Zelie" and progressing through performances by Mavis Staples, B.B. King, Buddy Guy, Honeyboy Edwards, Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, the Neville Brothers, Solomon Burke — whose story of showing up for a gig only to find himself playing a KKK rally is the film's truth-trumps-fiction highlight — Robert Cray, James Blood Ulmer and the sadly underappreciated Larry Johnson, who was once reduced to applying for a janitor's job at Radio City. In all, more than three dozen featured performers take the stage and vividly illustrate the relationship between the blues and jazz, gospel, rock and roll, bluegrass, hip-hop and country music. It's as hard not to ask what former New York Doll David Johansen is doing in their company, prancing his way through an irrelevant version of Howlin' Wolf's "Killing Floor," as it is not to wonder why the audience is so overwhelmingly white. But treasures like Honeyboy Edwards' spare performance of his own "Gamblin' Man" and archival footage of Son House singing "Death Letter Blues" go a long way toward compensating for misses like India.Arie's oversold cover of Billie Holiday's signature "Strange Fruit" and Chuck D's misguided reworking of John Lee Hooker's lust-drenched "Boom Boom" as a facile antiwar

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  • Released: 2004
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Review: "It's wonderful to get together with all these old friends and not be at a funeral," declares 75-year-old singer Ruth Brown, summing up the backstage atmosphere at the February 7, 2003 "Salute to the Blues" concert at New York's Radio City Music Hall. Acti… (more)

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