Various Artists

American Epic: The Sessions


ARGUABLY it was not strictly necessary to recreate the 1920s recording equipment that captured the sound of every musical corner of the USA as the record industry sought to compete with the ubitiquity of radio in order to make a fascinating TV series about that story. But that's what filmmakers Bernard MacMahon and Allison McGourty did, and it must have helped pique the executive producing interest of narrator Robert Redford, roots music producer T-Bone Burnett, and retro-gear fetishist, guitarist and singer Jack White. It also resulted in a slew of recording sessions, far beyond what was used on the programmes, where musicians old and young responded to the challenge of one-take recording to a disc-cutting lathe operated by clock-work and pulleys, that time-limited your performance. "You feel like your soul is coming out of the speaker," says Rhiannon Giddens.

She is one of the younger contributors to this wonderful double album, along with Pokey LaFarge and Nas (Nasir Jones), who is a revelation, with Taj Mahal, Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard predicticably brilliant at the other end. Of the septuagenarians, Steven Stills sings Robert Johnson, Bettye Lavette is still in glorious voice, and you may recognise the piano style of Elton John, but his vocal style is entirely different on his duet with White.

Keith Bruce