Standing in the Shadows of Motown | Chicago Reader

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Allan Slutsky's book Standing in the Shadows of Motown profiled bassist James Jamerson, whose dexterous and innovative playing was integral to the Motown sound but who, four months before his death from cirrhosis of the liver, had to buy a ticket from a scalper to see the label's 25th-anniversary concert. This slick documentary by Paul Justman widens the book's parameters to include Jamerson's fellow session men and reunites them for an extraordinary concert in Detroit. Among those filling in for the old Motown stars are Ben Harper, Joan Osborne, Chaka Khan, and Me'shell Ndegeocello, but the real revelation is hearing those minutely detailed arrangements—which were crammed onto two or three tape tracks back in the day—captured with all the clarity of a modern recording. The balance of the film is less impressive: with more than a dozen players to profile, Justman is limited to thumbnail portraits, and though the gentlemanly old musicians speak with intelligence and feeling about one another's playing, the 60s nostalgia is a constant drag on the narrative. Still, there's no denying the music's magic, and these guys deserve their day in the sun. 108 min.

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