Some people are skeptical of the artists-as-entrepreneurs stage of late capitalism — cough Tidal cough — but since people generally become superstars through some semblance of talent, some of this stuff has to turn out decently. Consider American Epic, which is the three-part documentary, feature film, and recording series brought to us by the combined forces of Robert Redford, Jack White and T Bone Burnett. Maybe I’m being optimistic, but with their combined knowledge, talent, and experience, that trio doesn’t seem like it could produce anything bad.
The documentary focuses on talent scouts for major record companies in the 1920s, mainly those who were scouting early music of the blues, country, gospel, and folk. The trailer below also hints at one “forgotten machine” that the story focuses on. Mysterious! It was directed by Bernard MacMahon and will air this fall on both PBS and BBC Arena.
The American Epic Sessions is the film that will accompany the documentary. Instead of telling the story of the past, the film documents sessions of modern-day musicians recording their music using equipment from the era the documentary covers. A little pretentious? Maybe. But I bet the songs will sound incredible. The film includes performances by Jack White (obviously), Beck, Nas, Alabama Shakes, Merle Haggard, Elton John, Taj Mahal, Willie Nelson, Raphael Saadiq, the Avett Brothers, Los Lobos, Bettye LaVette, Steve Martin & Edie Brickell. Can someone convince T Bone to lay something down too?
The songs from the film and from the documentary will be released separately in vinyl boxed sets via White’s Third Man Records. Watch a trailer for the project below.