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:: Standing In The Shadows Of Motown

In much the same way that the Buena Vista Social Club endeared itself to many as a worthy tribute documentary to unsung musicians, Standing In The Shadow Of Motown recognises the importance of a group of musicians known as the Funk Brothers. They were a supremely tight band of backing musicians whose wonderful grooves helped fuel the famous Motown sound of the 1960s and early 1970s.

Motown’s unsung heroes were local jazz musicians who played behind the legendary vocal talents of Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, The Temptations, The Supremes and countless others. This is a heartfelt documentary, with a brilliant soundtrack, that brings together interviews with many who played as part of the Funk Brothers and contains footage of a reunion concert held in Detroit, Michigan in 2000, where modern-day vocalists such as Joan Osborne, Ben Harper, Chaka Khan, Montell jOrdan and Bootsy Collins sang the famous songs and showed the influence of the band in their heyday.

The conversations between the musicians are captivating and demonstrate how they lived for music – in recounting their daily routines that involved the jam sessions and highlighting some of the defining moments in musical history. It is done in a straightforward manner – touching anecdotes and archival news clips. One of the highlights is the profile on the legendary James Jamerson, the late Funk Brother bassist who used only one finger to keep two times at once. He went in directions that other bass guitarists have never duplicated. It was said that he died of a broken heart because the Funk Brothers were never recognised during his lifetime. This documentary gives him due recognition as a star in his time. It is interesting to recount how surviving members told of their despair when the Motown business was moved from Detroit to Los Angeles in 1972. It left the Funk Brothers out in the wilderness.

The fabulous reunion concert is something to savour from this film as it marks the amazing contribution by the group. Ben Harper performs I Heard It Through The Grapevine and Ain’t Too Proud To Beg. Chaka Khan does a great job on the Marvin Gaye classic What’s Going On, while Joan Osborne shows her skill on the wonderful What Becomes Of The Broken Hearted.

This film gives deserved credit to the Funk Brothers for the celebration of a unique sound they created. The story is told simply and effectively and is well recommended.

Screening on general release