Judge Bill Gibron is actually embarrassed to embrace his own hillbilly roots.
The hopped up boys are lookin' for their trouble / the knocked up girls, well they've all got their share…
For some reason, we never think of hipster cool deriving from the Heartland. Chicago aside (which really isn't part of the mutual Midwest, when you think about it), the Bible Belt doesn't deliver that much when it comes to the indie music scene. So imagine one's shock when they learn that shoe-gazer darlings Kings of Leon, bright lights in Europe and especially the UK, come from a background that would make the wild and wonderful Whites of West Virginia jealous. Indeed, from their fundamentalist roots in rural Oklahoma to the sizable stages of Glastonbury, they're an anomaly: a Nashville based shout out that should have gone country (or perhaps gospel), but instead became more than just a little bit rock and roll. Indeed, the main message behind Talihina Sky: The Story of Kings of Leon is to never, ever, ever judge a musical muse by its origins. For the Followill Brothers—Caleb, Jared, and Nathan—and their cousin Matthew, a lifetime invested in the teachings and preachings of the Good Book didn't lead to a career in revival. Instead, they took their own message to much larger arena without ever really forgetting their homespun roots.
Structured around a yearly reunion among the Followill clans (including members of the Browns and others), we get the basic start-up story: how the Followill's began as part of dad's traveling show; how secret alcoholism destroyed them and ended in divorce; how Caleb and Nathan tried their hand at singing, and soon became a team. Then we get the inclusion of the other Followills, the sudden signing and success, and most importantly, the continuing link back to family. The band's name comes from their grandfather (they are truly "the Kings of Leon") and many of their songs reflect their experiences as outsiders in their conservative community. Interspersed are scenes of drug use (the guys constantly reference smoking dope and drinking) and the reflective reaction to same. Some, like their distant dad, don't seem to care (it's all part of the music industry game, he reckons). Mom, on the other hand, holds her hands in steadfast disapproval, acknowledging that a lot of prayer goes on to keep her babies safe and on the side of God.
Of course, there are a wealth of colorful characters here as well. Another family member, nicknamed "Nacho," is a Kings of Leon roadie and has developed quite a reputation among the fans for his pre-show antics. Similarly, a slippery old coot named Uncle Cleo steals almost every scene he is in, filled with so much spirit and spunk that when he ends up in the hospital at the end, we truly worry for his prognosis (it wasn't good, apparently). But for every return back to home base and the peculiar parts of their Pentecostal upbringing, we get in-studio tantrums, transcendent live performances, and a bit too much behind the scenes silliness.
Still, Talihina Sky does a decent job of letting us in on a part of a powerful rock combo that few within their fanbase even realize. Granted, the fierce factory backdrops of the UK have made for some mighty music, as have the harsh inner cities of the US. Just because it's lackadaisical and "backwards" doesn't mean pastoral Oklahoma is any less gritty. It may look serene, but as this story unfolds, we see both the positives, and the pitfalls, of coming from such a complex environ.
Presentationally, Talihina Sky looks great. The combination of stock footage, archival material, and freshly minted documentary looks amazing in this colorful and clear transfer. Since the new stuff was shot in full high definition, the 1.78:1/1080p widescreen image really sizzles. Even the older elements come across with crispness and clarity. As for the sound situation, we are treated a PCM Stereo mix (good), a PCM 5.1 Surround offering (better), and a Dolby Digital version of same (best). They deliver on both the dialogue and the music with memorable power. In the category of bonus features, we are treated to two amazing commentaries. The first features band members Nathan and Caleb with director (and old friend) Stephen Mitchell. The second adds in Matthew and Jared accompanied by producer Casey McGrath. Both are excellent and very insightful. Second, there is a collection of deleted scenes as well as a selection of home movies. Each add to our understanding of the group and its more than humble beginnings.
For the unseasoned newcomer, Talihina Sky will seem like a revelation. Imagine U2 coming from the cast of Hee Haw and you get the basic idea. No one is suggesting that there is no dignity in coming from such rural roots. In fact, this aspect of their origins make Kings of Leon all the more fascinating.
Not Guilty. A very good overview of an intriguing band.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: RCA Records
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