The American Epic Sessions

Jack White and T Bone Burnett invite today’s greatest artists to test their skills against the long-lost machine that recorded their musical idols and forebears. The producers have, over a decade rebuilt, a 1920s recording system, timed by a weight-driven system of clockwork gears. Stripped of the comforts and security of modern technology, Nas, Elton John, Alabama Shakes, Steve Martin Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard, are among the artists who have three minutes and one chance to get their music etched into a revolving wax disc, before the weight hits the floor. The results are career defining performances and the very definition of "Lighting In A Bottle".

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  • ★★★★ review by Ruz_El on Letterboxd

    This is a four part series documenting the birth of American Music. In the 20’s, record recording left the big cities and went rural, and by focusing on artist as diverse as The Carter Family and Charlie Patton, the story is told. Part four features Jack White and T-Bone Burnett bringing in artists to record sides on the only surviving machine. It’s fantastic stuff, but I am biased since I have loved this music since discovering The Anthology of American Folk Music 20 or so years ago.

  • ★★★★★ review by dagarabedian on Letterboxd

    Taken together with the three-part documentary that precedes it, this is a phenomenal snapshot of American music nearly a century ago -- its roots, cultures, history, technology and artists. The whole thing is reverential, almost fetishistic; as most things that Jack White does are.

  • ★★★★★ review by Matt Barca on Letterboxd

    MIFF 2016 Film #5 - 20 sessions with wildly differing artists, recording mostly southern songs of the 1920s on a newly reconstructed Western Electric vinyl record creating machine, which was the original blueprint for recording studio equipment & capturing regional sounds of America in the mid-twenties.

    Jack White produced this documentary & the recordings.

    The very literal single-take recordings can only last a maximum of three & a half minutes, because the pulley system's 105 pound weight hits the floor after that & the recording ends!

    Technical info & history splice the sessions together & help pace the film.

    Recording doesn't always go smoothly, which makes for several comical moments.

    The artists were so varied & impressive that I don't wanna spoil it for you.

    Beck. Sorry.

    Elton John. Alright, alright. I'll leave it there.

    Go see it if you're into roots, blues, or even old country.

    The equipment itself seems built for macro photography.

    Very sexy stuff.

  • ★★★½ review by Jason Bailey on Letterboxd

    In 1925, Western Electric built the very first mobile phonograph recording equipment, taking it out on the road the following year and recording, for the first time, regional music. Engineer Nick Bergh spent a decade rebuilding the last known Western Electric deck; this film documents the 20 recording sessions producers Jack White and T Bone Burnett put together to use it, with a variety of acts recording their songs, straight through, into one mic, direct to disc. They end up with a combination of history, performance, and celebration, and it’s frequently (pardon the pun) electrifying, capturing the sheer joy of these sessions and these songs. And it feels a little overlong at a full 120 minutes, though I can’t think of one thing in it I’d do without

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