Sundance 2011 Review: TROUBADOURS
Director: Morgan Neville
As is true with any trend, once something becomes popular, it is only a matter of time before it gets worn out and people demand something new (until that gets popular and the entire cycle starts all over again). Music is a constant trend and, although we have gotten different variations over the years, the same patterns seem to repeat themselves as different generations elect their favorite performers. TROUBADOURS take us back to a time when the singer/songwriter took over the spotlight and gives us a peek into the famous venue that nurtured these artists.
As the 1960s came to a close, many of the groups that had defined the decade were splitting up (the Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, the Supremes). The beginning of the 1970s saw music begin to move away from the polished groups that sang the hits and focus in on the writers behind those songs. Set against the background of Carole King and James Taylor’s reunion to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Troubadour club in Los Angeles, we look back over their history as songwriters and performers that helped define a new style in our music history.
With bands breaking up, the songwriters who created their music found themselves with no one to write for. In the wake of this shift, a handful of these songwriters began taking to the stage themselves to perform their own work. King had started out as a songwriter for many famous performers and it was on stage at the Troubadour during their famous Hoot Night, where new artists could get up and perform, that she proved to be more than just a wordsmith, but a talented singer and performer in her own right.
Taylor had always been known for his songwriting, but as he tried to break into the music business as a performer, he got caught up in the production of it all rather than stripping his work down to what makes it so memorable: the words. As more songwriters began moving to Los Angeles and took up residency in Laurel Canyon, the epicenter of this movement began taking shape with artists such as Joni Mitchell, Kris Kristofferson, and David Crosby coming together and creating this new trend in music. At home in the Canyon, they would write together and then they would perform what they had created at the Troubadour in the city.
The Troubadour became the go-to venue for this movement with artists from King and Taylor to Bonnie Raitt, Eagles and Elton John all performing there. It became not only a place to express oneself as an artist, but also the premiere location for anyone in the record industry looking for new artists. The Troubadour was owned and run by Doug Weston, an eccentric personality who clearly wanted to be a part of this new movement, but since he lacked the musical talent, he instead created a space for those who had it to perform which in turn put him at the center of it all.
TROUBADOURS succeeds in capturing this moment in music’s history, but also does so in a slightly romanticized way, focusing only on this particular movement rather than panning back to look at what else was going on at the time. For those who are fans of these artists or the zeitgeist of the singer/songwriter, this documentary will surely entice and entertain. I wish we had gotten a more in-depth look at the songwriting process between King and Taylor rather than simply having to piece together their history through interview clips and appreciative glances. However, it was inspiring and impressive to see the friendship and connection between artists like King and Taylor, which is fused together by their shared love of music and respect for each other.
No matter where the trends in music take us, one thing is clear, it is an undeniable force that brings people together and creates bonds described in lyrics rather than words. Even if we can guess where music may take us next, it is in those rare moments when something new comes to the foreground and captures our attention that we are able to experience the magic of true artistry and that shift of the audience’s attention.