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Cadillac Records Review

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Cadillac Records


R 108 min




Those of us who have grown up in or around the world of Rock and Roll know that the roots grow deep in the USA.

Yes we have the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame right down the street in Cleveland Ohio but those roots run down to the Mississippi delta, the marshes of Louisiana, up through Memphis Tennessee and eastward to Chicago Illinois.

From the songs of the southern plantations and sharecroppers to various forms of the blues to what was coined Rock and Roll by Alan Freed in Cleveland the journey, like the music, was never "nice and easy."

For those who think R&R began in Liverpool or San Francisco or even Seattle, Cadillac Records is a loose and expansive look at the days before the iPod the CD or MTV.

This is basically a story about blues legend Muddy Waters (Jeffrey Wright) and entrepreneur Leonard Chess (Adrian Brody) but these are only two of a much larger cast, the artists that were the heart of Chess Records.


The “rockumentary” is one of the oldest genres in the business and one of the most homogenous. That is to say it seems every one follows a nearly identical outline.

The poor but gifted star to be partners up with a semi scrupulous promoter and is off to the bright lights of fame. There are sure to be bouts of infidelity and problems with booze drugs or both. And there will be money trouble; bet on it. At the end there is sure to be resurrection with modern day fans. That is unless he dies young.

That’s the way CADILLAC RECORDS plays, but though it’s the same old song it’s not unpleasant to hear again.

On the downside, all these rough episodes seem to have been sweetened in the final mix if not whitewashed altogether. I’d prefer to believe the former.

So through the wheeling dealing and outright bribery on Chess’ part these seminal musicians, including the dangerous Howlin’ Wolf, (brilliantly portrayed by Eamon Walker) the dysfunctional Little Walker (Columbus Short) a bitter Etta James (Producer Beyonce Knowles), bad boy Chuck Berry (Mos Def) and others became the household names in households that rock.

Most say that Berry was a good bit nastier in real life than he is in the film and I’d not be surprised if Chess was more crook than mentor in reality but it’s an interesting landscape that isn’t often told.

The film is a drama with music and not vice versa. There are well done musical numbers, the longer ones by producer Knowles (surprise) but it is first the story of the struggles these artists lived through at a turning point of American music.

There’s nothing new here but good acting and empathetic characters who should interest any lover of Rock and Roll music.









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