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1 review, 5 user ratings

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Promised Land, The: A Swamp Pop Journey
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by Jay Seaver

"It's just fun to know that something called 'swamp pop' exists."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2009 SOUTH BY SOUTHWEST FILM FESTIVAL: There are nearly as many ways to make a music documentary as there are examples of the genre. "The Promised Land" may not have figured out the best, but it's very likely that they've figured out the most fun: Get all the greatest practitioners of a style of music together and have them form a band on-camera. You can't do this with many styles, but, thankfully, you apparently can with Louisiana "swamp pop".

"Swamp pop", as the name implies, comes from the bayous of southern Louisiana. It sounds a bit like rock & roll got stuck there in the late fifties or early sixties, when the boundaries between it, country, and dixie blues were more porous. It's played in bars and open-air get-togethers, and for one reason or another doesn't seem to have graduated many stars to national attention, so it stayed local and kept doing its own thing. C.C. Adcock appears to be one of the bigger names of the current generation, and he decides to put a band together with his musical heroes.

You can do that in southern Louisiana, and he goes out (with filmmaker Matthew Wilkinson in tow) to recruit some of the greats. This includes Warren Storm, a drummer and vocalist with an awe-inspiring mustache who is known as the godfather of swamp pop; Tommy McLain, a singer who currently spends most of his time DJing for a religious radio station; Steve Riley, considered one of the all-time great swamp pop accordion players; pianist and songwriter David Egan; second-generation pedal steel player Richard Comeau; guitarist Li'l Buck Sinegal; sax players Dicky Landry and Pat Breaux; MC Uncle Donald Sinegal, who was rapping back in the 1970s; and others, not least of which is roadie and super-sub Kenny Bill Stinson (who fills in for whoever can't make it). They're called the Li'l Band of Gold, a swamp pop supergroup.

Based upon what we see, there isn't much conflict among the group - nothing in the way of long-held grudges or racial tension (one member of the group describes swamp pop as "white people playing black music damn well", but there are some African-American musicians in the band, such as the Sinegals) to get in the way of making music. The closest the movie comes to having them butt heads is a few comments about how everybody in the group is the star when playing alone, so it's a bit strange for any of them to do a gig and only sing lead vocals on a couple songs or just play one that he has written. With such general good will among the group, what we get is mainly folks coming together to make music. We see them play at a regular Monday-evening gig as well as writing and recording together.

We also spend some time catching up with the various band members in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, which may perhaps be something a movie focusing on New Orleans cannot avoid doing for some time, but it feels obligatory. As much as the landscape often has a certain stark beauty, the visuals of the movie sometimes betrays its very low budget, especially at night. It's not a great-looking movie, by any means.

It is, however, a great-sounding one. The music is great, just a blast to listen to, and there's a lot of it. There's at least pieces of a couple dozen songs in here, and it often sounds like classics that we've never heard before. The South by Southwest crowd, as you might expect, loved that the Li'l Band of Gold's coming-out party took place at the 2006 SXSW music festival, and that does make for a pretty spiffy centerpiece, giving us the chance to listen to them without much in the way of breaks for information, as well as showing that even though some of these guys have been around for a while, they can bring it all night.

Swamp pop's likely not going to be the next big thing, but it's pretty good music - I was disappointed not to find anything from the Li'l Band of Gold on Amazon the next morning - and we get to listen to a bunch of it. It's nifty music played by colorful characters, and I can't ask much more than that.

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originally posted: 04/14/09 12:46:50
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 South By Southwest Film Festival For more in the 2009 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

6/09/13 Patrick Stroudley A perfect portrait of a unique band 5 stars
7/31/09 Peggy Davis Fantastic! I felt like I was right there on the road with em' ! 5 stars
5/13/09 Vincent Hogan Great film, great music! 5 stars
5/07/09 Mad mike Norris Awsome; Love swamp 5 stars
4/18/09 joshua Promised Land and Buena Vista Social Club are the two best music films I have ever seen -by 5 stars
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