Last Of The Mississippi Jukes (2016)

Last Of The Mississippi Jukes (2016)

An interesting historical blues documentary finally gets released on DVD.

Performers: Alvin Youngblood Hart; Bobby Rush; Chris Thomas King; Vasti Jackson; Patrice Moncell; Eddie Cotton; George Jackson; The King Edward Blues Band; The House Rockers; Abdul Rasheed; J.T. Watkins & Levon Lindsey; Dennis Fountain & Pat Brown; Lucille; Greg “Fingers” Taylor; Sam Carr; Anthony Sherrod; Jesse Robinson; David Hughes & Virgil Brawley; Steve Cheseborough; Casey Phillips & The Hounds
Studio: MVD Visual MVD7127D
Director: Robert Mugge
Audio: PCM Stereo 2.0, DTS 5.1
Video: for 16:9 screens, color and black & white
Chapters: Saturday Night, Sunday Morning; Ground Zero For Blues; Subway Swing; Last Call; Subway Blues: End Of The Line
Length: 86 minutes
Rating:    Audio: ***1/2    Video: ****    Overall: ****

Blues has been an integral part of the American culture since its inception. The legacy of racism and brutality can never be ignored or changed by revisionist history. But this deeply felt musical genre has permeated African America and the mainstream with significant impact. Elvis Presley, The Rolling Stones, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Led Zeppelin, Carl Perkins, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Duke Ellington and Count Basie all share this musical roots genesis. One of the birthplaces of the genre is the Mississippi Delta. Between the Mississippi and Yazoo rivers are small towns that produced some of the greatest music in the world. Names like Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters Elmore James, Lead Belly, Mose Allison, B.B. King and Mississippi Fred McDowell (to name but a few) are proud denizens of this community. A key element of this phenomenon was the local clubs or “juke joints” that provided the only outlets for these legendary performers.

Eleven years after its theatrical release, Last Of The Mississippi Jukes has been released on DVD. Against a backdrop of spirited blues performances, director Robert Mugges tells the story of blues, encapsulated by two clubs. Ground Zero (owned by Morgan Freeman) is located in Clarksdale, Mississippi. This is the town in which legend has it, Robert Johnson went to the crossroads at Highway 49 and “sold his soul” to the devil. The other venue, The Subway Lounge, is located in Jackson (where O Brother Where Art Thou was filmed) and was the greatest of the original jukes. Through some vintage black & white film snippets, the historical context of the blues is established, with references to Sunday riverside gospel and steel-body National guitars. Like the region, this music reflects the ability to overcome the hard economic realities and celebrate the spirit of inclusive music.

There are a myriad of feel-good performances. But Patrice Moncell steals the show on her pair of numbers. She tears into “Stormy Monday” with a first-rate house band. Later, she recounts a hysterical r&b-laced sexual encounter that brings the house down. In addition to stage performances, there are intimate “live” ones with the director. Among them is the incomparable Bobby Rush on harmonica and vocal. The real star of this documentary is the Subway Lounge. Its enduring relevance to the community is detailed with affection and reverence. When it is revealed that the “original juke” got torn down, it is a gut-wrenching blow to the viewer. The financial realities of costly upkeep and competition by gaming casinos are duly chronicled. This venue is as important as The Cotton Club, Carnegie Hall and The Fillmore.

The video quality of the film is good and suits the purposes of the film. There is a DTS  5.1 mix (that is not very dynamic)) and a stereo one to experience. Anyone interested in musical culture would be entertained by Last Of The Mississippi Jukes.   

Robbie Gerson

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