Music in unusual places…
Throwing musicians in unlikely places hasn't been done too often. Oh, sure, there was Yanni at Red Rocks Amphitheatre, but his flowing hair blended in so beautifully with the crimson horizon…ha ha ha. Well, here we have Ryan Adams, formerly of the alt-country band Whiskeytown and now a successful solo artist, in Jamaica of all places. This combination of concert film and documentary, previously seen on MTV, floats by like a cool beach breeze and proves that thinking "out of the box" really does work, no matter how bad it done the dot-coms wrong.
Facts of the Case
Ryan Adams loves Jamaica. He wants to stay there. Alas, he cannot, but he'll at least get some performance in. This isn't your typical concert film, however; interspersed between intimate performances in the midst of public markets and small beaches, Adams and his crew shop at the Port Antonio market, talk about the music making in general, and chow down on fish sandwiches. It's a music documentary with a laid back feel, just right for Adams' expert but loosey-goosey rock/country/folk music.
Music in High Places: Ryan Adams opens with Adams talking about how great Jamaica is, and we see confident camera work capturing smiles on the natives, the flawless beaches, busy markets. This film is about Jamaica as much as it is Adams, to its credit.
After an introduction, Adams starts playing—not in a concert hall or in front of hordes of fans, but in front of thatched-roof food stands in front of a beach. The natives listen to the music or simply go about their business as Adams and his musicians play a good, tight set. Adams' melodic, hooky country-rock blends in nice with the cool, sunny atmosphere of the island; it's really a great combination.
Many sides of the island are shown as Adams comments on the general good attitude of Jamaicans despite the abject poverty. He takes advantage of the islands' resources as well, collaborating with island musicians and adding congos to his hit "New York, New York." That was definitely a highlight to me.
Visually, this looked great. The film had no specking or obvious flaws, and the rich, sunny tones of Jamaica looked great—blacks were solid, skin tones true. The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen looked great save for a constant jitter at the bottom edge. Otherwise, fans of Adams should be happy with the way this transfer turned out.
Sound-wise, you have a choice of Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Digital 2.0, and DTS 5.1. I can't listen to the DTS, but the 5.1 was lush and full, the bottom timbres of the guitars and top notes of Adams' voice coming through in a nicely layered sound. The 2.0 was fine too, as this is a pretty quiet, low-key film—if this were a KISS concert, sound would probably be a wee bit more crucial.
The extras are generous, considering the doc itself is just under an hour. We get two featurettes, the first being "Jamaica: The Real Story," which starts with a producer saying the original producer of said featurette started passing a kidney stone midway through the crew's flight from Los Angeles to New York. Oops. What results is some crew giggling during songs, some wit and wisdom from producers, Ryan Adams, and other participants, loosely tied together and a bit rambling. Not bad, but certainly not the incisive look fans may want.
Second comes "Ryan and Toots," wherein Ryan works with a famed Jamaican musician, Toots Hibbert. It's a fairly cut and dry featurette of them jamming together in a studio—dry, but pretty cool for hardcore musicians to watch. The "Just the Music" section has all the songs presented in the documentary so you can watch song by song, without filler and interviews. This is an excellent and thoughtful addition.
Lastly, we get a biography of Adams, but the type is small and a muddled yellow and white—the color of the type here is way off and basically unreadable.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
There are some parts of Music in High Places: Ryan Adams that make me think the filmmakers partook of one of the more popular products of Jamaica, if ya know what I mean. Horsing around and goofing off between interviews and song sessions gets a tiny bit tedious, but the juicy parts make up the bulk of the film and are worth waiting for. Plus, the intros and outros of the "Music in High Places" logo scream "this was on TV at one time" and are the only unprofessional aspect of this DVD.
Fans will love this, and non-Ryan-Adams devotees will get an excellent introduction to the man and the music. The setting is incredible and the filmmaking is refined and elegant, while also bestowing the film with the flavor of Jamaica. Tech specs were sound and extras were generous for a musician documentary.
This judge awards Music in High Places: Ryan Adams with a lifetime vacation in Jamaica—a great all around disc!
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• Behind the Scenes Featurettes: "Jamaica: The Real Story," "Ryan and Toots," "Just the Music"
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