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Muscle Shoals

In its assessment of how a small town in Alabama came to be a recording destination for discerning musicians and a hotbed of hit singles, Muscle Shoals spends a little too much time indulging New Age mysticism and Native American fables about the region’s supernatural gifts. Thankfully, it spends considerably more time peeling back the layers of Fame Studios founder Rick Hall, whose vision and prodigious talent as a producer is the unquestionable nucleus of the legendary “Muscle Shoals sound.”

With an appropriately no-frills style (refreshing in an age of docs overloaded with ostentatiously animated B-roll fluff), Muscle Shoals molds conversations with Hall, his acolytes, and an impressive roster of stars (Aretha Franklin, Etta James, Wilson Pickett, and the Rolling Stones among them) into a fluid, multidimensional timeline packed with classic tunes. Though he is a calculating hit-maker who has seen his share of music industry ugliness, Hall’s approach is anything but cynical, and his relentless pursuit of performances that harness honest emotion give his work – and, by extension, this film – an enduring soul.