You don't know him, but Judge Jason Panella is your brother.
"And we knew it was a stupid name to begin with but by the time we knew how stupid it really was it was too late."—Pat Simmons
For a group that began their career in in the early 1970s as a humble bar band, The Doobie Brothers sure have come a long way. Let the Music Play: The Story of The Doobie Brothers does a nice job of summing up the band's long career up in less than two hours. The constant change in member line-up, the shift from swampy guitar rock to jazzy blue-eyed soul, break-ups, the 40 million-plus albums sold…it's all here.
Let the Music Play works well as an oral history of The Doobies because it lets the surviving band members do the talking. Pat Simmons and Tom Johnston—the original co-frontmen of the band—get the most screen time, but the documentary also features long-timers like Tiran Porter (bass), Ted Templeton (producer), and John McFee (guitar). The documentary explores the band's roots as a biker band in San Francisco's vibrant music scene, then moves on to cover their early hits and eventual stardom. As Johnston explains, though, the non-stop touring and rock star lifestyle forced him out of the band with some serious medical problems. His replacement was Michael McDonald, who pushed the band in a more keyboard-oriented direction in the '80s. McDonald gets to chime in quite a bit during the second half of Let the Music Play, and the movie thankfully never plays favorites. The film closes out by looking at The Doobie's activity since they disbanded in 1982: reunion shows, charity work, and—inevitably—the band reuniting to record new studio material.
For the most part, the talking heads are consistently amiable and (thankfully) engaging. Simmons, the group's sole permanent member, is full of interesting stories and neat tidbits. Director Barry Ehrmann (Katt Williams: American Hustle) drops some footage of live performances into the mix, which helps move the film along. Most of this footage is presented at a slightly grainy 1.33:1 ratio, for what it's worth, but it still shows how strong the band was as a live act. The big hits are here, like early favorites "China Grove" and "Listen to the Music", and the McDonald-era tunes "Takin' It To the Streets" and "Minute By Minute". For a band that has more than a dozen studio full-length releases, though, it would have been nice to have at least some mention of the deeper album tracks. This also gets at the fact that no matter how interesting Let the Music Play is, it's really just scratching the surface of The Doobie Brother's career; it's almost like narrated version of the band's Wikipedia entry, only with less detail. For a two hour look at the band's career, though, Let the Music Play really holds up.
The Blu-ray release from Eagle Rock Entertainment boasts a 1.78:1/1080p transfer. The high-definition treatment is consistently sharp…and also kind of unnecessary, considering the camera spends most of its time on talking band members. (Guitarist Jeff "Skunk" Baxter's crazy mustache is a high definition masterpiece—possible hidden bonus feature?) The audio tracks (DTS-HD Master Audio and LPCM stereo) sound wonderful, and are the real sells for the Blu-ray treatment. The Blu-ray also comes with a small booklet (with an essay and photos), plus a number of bonus live performances. The live performances are just the full-length versions of the clips shown during the documentary, though. The tracks are: 1) "Rainy Day Crossroad Blues," 2) "Without You," 3) "Listen To The Music," 4) "Black Water," 5) "Takin' It To The Streets," 6) "Rockin' Down The Highway," 7) "Neal's Fandango," 8) "Long Train Runnin,'" 9) "China Grove."
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Eagle Rock Entertainment
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