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Bill Wyman's Blues Odyssey
Umbrella Entertainment/AV Channel . R4 . COLOR . 109 mins . M15+ . PAL


Bill Wyman may currently be in the middle of legal proceedings against a professional American photographer that just happened to be born with the same name, but he hasn't always come across with such retentive tendencies. Over the years when he was bass guitarist for The Rolling Stones, and in his days since as part of Willie and the Poor Boys and The Rhythm Kings, he has shown a healthy and almost fanatical devotion to the history of the blues, and generally appeared laidback and relaxed. He certainly comes across like that in this DVD entitled Bill Wyman's Blues Odyssey, which is a walkthrough history of the blues from the cotton fields of the southern United States to the blues clubs and pubs of his native homeland, the United Kingdom.

This doco plays as two separate mini-documentaries that flow into each other, and to the best of my knowledge are not part of a longer series. Although Wyman's love of, and knowledge about, the blues is obvious, there is no reason why some other well known artist could not have 'hosted' this 120 minute tour. Sure, he's interviewed some of the biggest blues names both past and present, but there must be oodles of such interview footage about. That's not to say that Wyman is rubbish as he does a fair job of it, but others could have done the job just as admirably.

The blues dates back as far as the turn of this century, even if the recordings don't. There is some rare and very old music included from some of the greats such as Lead Belly, Muddy Waters, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Robert Johnson, Bo Diddly, Bessie Smith, Little Walter, Elmore James, Howlin' Wolf, Chuck Berry and BB King amongst others. There are interviews new and old from the likes of Sam Phillips, Mick Fleetwood, Buddy Guy, Taj Mahal, Otis Rush, Wilson Pickett, and Mike Love. Many legendary performers crack a mention, and not necessarily those that are thought of as blues artists such as Elvis Presley and Bob Dylan.

It's not just the blues that are covered here either, for it is not possible to talk about the blues without mentioning gospel, country, folk, and even jazz. There are also some more recent performances included from artists that are flying the blues flag, although there are no complete performances as is typical of musical documentaries.

For lovers of blues, and those that enjoy documentary style programmes, this is a great DVD. It moves along at a great pace, and follows a logical sequence and is mostly chronological. The audio and video quality tends to vary depending on the age of the material, but there are some wonderful snippets included from all eras. It also dishes a little dirt on some of the more memorable blues legends that have often lived colourful, and sometimes short, lives.


As stated, there is a variety of audio and video quality throughout this release, but considering that some of it was recorded almost 100 years ago, and constitutes some of the very earliest recordings, miracles should not be expected. The feature is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is 16x9 enhanced. Overall, the more recent footage looks very sharp indeed, while the older material shows its age. Some of the interview footage is circa 1970s and looks it with that soft image and wild colouring that taped footage of the era seems to display. Most of the vintage footage is black and white and of varying contrasts though all recent footage is colour.

Shadow detail is generally good, and black levels vary depending on the age of the material. Colours in the recent footage are very good and skin tones are natural.

There are only marks and dirt on the vintage material, and all else looks very good. Although this a dual layer disc, no layer change was detected.

The only audio option is a Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo track and sounds very good indeed, even during a lot of the older material. Low-level frequencies are noticeably warm, rich and deep. There is no need for the subwoofer which, like the rear speakers, is not used at all. There is some noticeable separation between the left and right channels, though mostly during the music.

High frequency sounds are also good and come through crisply. All vocals and dialogue are loud and clear. All musical instruments sound natural, and although some of the older recordings are quite crackly, they are still more than acceptable and enjoyable.

As for extras, well there are only two and they are completely bogus. There is a photo montage, which even for a photo gallery is pretty shoddy with just six photos included from Wyman's "Look who I've met" scrapbook. The other extra is Umbrella Propaganda which is one page showing four DVD covers of other Umbrella releases.

Overall this is a most enjoyable walkthrough of the history of the blues and covers all of the big names from the turn of the century to today's players and the few remaining living legends. There is a wide coverage of the different sub-genres of the blues, mini-biographies and historical references to the social events of the times. For anyone who has a passing interest in the history of music, and in particular the blues, then this is a great potted history and an excellent starting point for those interested in knowing a little bit more.

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  •   And I quote...
    "Bill Wyman may have sung Je Suis Un Rock Star back in the '80s, but it's clear that his first love is rhythm and blues..."
    - Terry Kemp
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