American film's maverick king of low-budget realism, John Sayles follows his usual do-it-yourself/do-it-cheap formula on Honeydripper, focusing his camera on the beginnings of rock and roll in a fictional Alabama backwater town. Set in 1950 (around the time the electric guitar was invented), the movie captures Americans' astounding capacity for rapid adaptation and assimilation, both onscreen and in Sayles's reliably spot-on musical cues. There's Hank Williams Sr.'s country-blues "Move It on Over," Lil Green's bawdyhouse "Why Don't You Do Right" and Keb Mo updating ageless murder ballad "Stack O Lee." The a cappella traditions of rural Southern black churches shine forth on New Beginnings Ministry Choir's "You Got to Choose," while Sayles's spotlight also falls on Memphis Slim's polished yet mournful urban piano blues on "Bertha May" and Ruth Brown tackling Tampa Red's "Things About Coming My Way" in the R&B legend's final recording. By the time Austin's Gary Clark Jr. turns up the electricity on the jumping "Good Rockin' Tonight," rock and roll is in its crib, and the era of Chuck Berry and Fats Domino is in full swing. They may call it the blues, but the Honeydripper soundtrack is pure joy.
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