From Ethnomusicology, Spring/Summer 2014
Published by the Society for Ethnomusicology by University of Illinois Press
Review by Robert W. Fry, Vanderbilt University

Troubadour Blues. Directed, produced and edited by Tom Weber. 2011. DVD, 91 minutes. Distributed by Tom Weber Films, LLC, website: http:// tomweberfilms.com.

The film Troubadour Blues follows the careers of modern day American folk musicians as they travel through the country and document their experiences and the stories of those they meet along the way. The film opens by linking musicians, including Peter Case, Chris Smither, Dave Alvin, Mary Gauthier, Garrison Starr, and Slaid Cleaves, to a long history of musical storytelling, most notably the American blues, a connection that is suggested in the title of the film and reinforced by the musicians who, in interviews, praise the honesty and realness of folk musicians such as John Lee Hooker, Bukka White, Mississippi John Hurt, and Ralph Stanley.

In the process, these musicians authenticate their own musical path through personal and artistic connections to these legends and their craft. Their honesty as folk singers is further reinforced in the opening scene, where the viewer is first introduced to Peter Case performing a song about homelessness. In the following montage, the song stays the same while the venue’s location and decor, and Case’s dress and hairstyle, continuously change, reinforcing not only themes of travel, but also the authenticity of the performer and his role as a travelling storyteller. Case supports this in the opening interview, where he states: “You’ve got to look inside your heart. You’ve got to look in the eyes of people around you, listen to their voices. You’ve got to find a song in there worth singing, and you’ve got to go wherever it goes.”

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