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Leftover Feelings: A Studio B Revival - Documentary Review (Melbourne Documentary Film Festival 2022)

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by Steven G (subscribe)
Too much tertiary education... Former performer/wrestler, teacher, scientist; Published author & Father... Want to be a writer if I grow up...
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The past brought back to life by two talented men
I was given the opportunity to see the screener for this documentary, and with my love for the history of music, I thought Why not?.

This is a documentary that does two things – it celebrates RCA's Studio B in Nashville, which was Elvis Presley's preferred studio, and it shows two wonderful musicians and friends making music together – John Hiatt and Jerry Douglas – which would become the album Leftover Feelings. As an aside, while I have several albums that Jerry Douglas has played on, and one John Hiatt album, my knowledge of them is limited.

This documentary has made me want to change that.

This is Leftover Feelings: A Studio B Revival (2021).

Directed by Ted Roach and Lagan Sebert

The studio was established by Chet Atkins as a place for Elvis, who had recently moved to RCA from Sun Records, to record where he could feel comfortable. The history of the place is amazing, for country music, early rock, cross-over music, Americana – the works. The artists who have recorded there over the years is like a who's who of the country and early rock scene.

It has become something of a tourist attraction in Nashville, but Hiatt and Douglas wanted it to be used to produce some fine music again, and in the manner it had been done in the past. This involves recording in the style now referred to as "live", with all musicians in the room together, not cut and pasted on computers. While I know the act of recording everything separately and the engineer and producer putting it together dates back to the Sixties and tape, and it has produced some amazing work, there is just something about the "feel" of a recording where the musicians are bouncing off one another that is different.

I think I should point out that you do not need to know who Hiatt and Douglas are to enjoy this documentary. The music and the studio are more important than the personalities, even though they are prominent in this story. The whole is filmed/presented in black and white, giving it a feel that is a little more timeless. I have seen some music clips on YouTube done in colour, but I like the historic feel of the black and white. That is not to say it looks old – there is a vibrancy in the way it looks as well.

The pandemic did delay things, but thankfully it was only a delay. And you can tell it was a pandemic recording, with masks and some social distancing.

As this is about making an album, we do get snatches of a number of songs (and the full uninterrupted performance version of 'Changes In My Mind'), but we also get interviews and commentary from Lyle Lovett, Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, Rodney Crowell, Molly Tuttle, and Jeff Hanna about the history of the place (even a brief look at Nashville itself), and the two men involved. It is clear they are held in high esteem by many. And as to the music itself, what is featured is so beautiful. Once I am a little more financial, this is the next album I will be ordering.
hiatt, douglas, documentary
Jerry Douglas & John Hiatt

The set-up of the studio – including the echo chamber, which fascinated me – is an interesting look at the way things were done in the past. It actually makes me wish that modern musicians used this sort of analogue technology more than they do.

We also briefly meet the Jerry Douglas Band's members. That is a decent thing to do; too many of these sorts of documentaries treat the backing musicians as props. To hear them called good players, and hear a little about them is good. And their playing, as evidenced in this documentary, is stunning.

Going back and forth with the music, the making of the album and the history of the studio makes this a documentary that does not stagnate. It keeps on moving, giving the audience a chance to experience everything, and not becoming bogged down in any one topic. There is also talk of other artists recording there again as well. I think that would be a wonderful idea.

So, who is this documentary for? People who love that old music, people interested in some of the history of popular music as we know it today, and those who enjoy Americana music. This is a feel-good documentary. It is designed, of course, to sell the album, but the wider appeal of those interested in the studio stops it becoming just another promo piece.

This is a beautiful documentary. I recommend it.

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Why? Music history should be preserved
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