PBS has been airing a documentary called American Epic, and the last installment, the star-studded Sessions, can be seen tonight on many (but not all) PBS stations. Viewers are urged to check local listings.
The Sessions is features a variety of entertainers, including Elton, Nas, and Alabama Shakes. The artists have recorded both new compositions and songs from the 1920s and 1930s, which are featured in the documentary. For The Sessions segment, the producers re-assembled a recording lathe from the late 1920s (the last of its kind in existence) and replicated the atmosphere of America’s seminal 1920s field recordings down to the smallest detail. The artists recorded straight to wax, using all the original microphones, amplifiers, and other equipment from that era. It was the first time that any performer has been able to use this machinery for over 80 years.
Narrated by Robert Redford, the film depicts how the music of ordinary Americans was recorded for the very first time. The segments depict the extraordinary story set in the late 1920s when record company talent scouts toured the States with a recording machine and for the first time captured the raw expression of an emerging culture. The filmmakers follow the recording machine’s trail across the United States to rediscover the families whose recordings would lead to the development of blues, country, gospel, Hawaiian, Cajun and folk music without which there would be no rock, pop, R&B or hip hop today.
The music of American Epic–which includes Elton and Jack White on 2 Fingers of Whiskey–is available for pre-order at Americanepicmusic.com, and YouTube currently has footage of the two musicians.
As noted by Bernie Taupin, for the sessions, Jack and Elton collaborated musically in a very unique way. Handed a set of lyrics penned by Bernie, Elton was tasked with improvising a blues song, with Jack accompanying him on guitar.
In the UK, the Epic Sessions can be checked out this Friday night on BBC Four.