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Rhythm, Country & Blues

Potentially an interesting premise, this PBS special discusses the diverse musical contributions of two locales: Nashville, the home of country music, and Memphis, the birthplace of the blues. The cities might seem to be worlds apart musically, but spec sets out to explore the eventual melding of the two genres as both styles evolve.

With:
With: Little Richard, Tanya Tucker, Gladys Knight, Vince Gill, Al Green, Lyle Lovett, Chet Atkins, Allen Toussaint, Patti LaBelle, Travis Tritt, Natalie Cole, Reba McEntire, Clint Black, The Pointer Sisters, B.B. King, George Jones, Conway Twitty, Sam Moore, the Staple Singers, Marty Stuart, Aaron Neville, Trisha Yearwood, Bill Ivey, Rufus Thomas, Ron Wynn, Nick Tosches, Don Was, Jim Dickinson, Wayne Jackson, Andrew Love, Owen Bradley.

Potentially an interesting premise, this PBS special discusses the diverse musical contributions of two locales: Nashville, the home of country music, and Memphis, the birthplace of the blues. The cities might seem to be worlds apart musically, but spec sets out to explore the eventual melding of the two genres as both styles evolve.

But docu, highlighted by vintage retrospective performances, falls short in both information and entertainment value, resulting in little more than a poorly conceived promotional vehicle for an album about to be released by MCA Records.

The MCA disc, “Rhythm, Country & Blues” (released today) taps top country artists in duets with R&B stars on some of the soulful genres’ best-known tunes.

Doc also features stalwarts of the respective genres — and, curiously, those involved in the doc’s production — espousing the virtues of the music, paying homage with cliche-ridden commentary, and backslapping their new-found counterparts.

But the new versions of the classic tunes used in the doc — and on the disc — aren’t really memorable enough to earn the audience’s attention.

The ubiquitous recording studio shots give way to playback sessions in the booth where the participants high-five and smile as if they’ve created a new genre about to set the world afire.

The commentary features such banalities as “Elvis changed the music business forever.” Vintage footage of Little Richard, B.B. King, Aretha Franklin and others has been seen before, ad nauseam.

Only two offerings succeed: the pairing of Sam Moore (of Sam & Dave fame) with Conway Twitty in the latter’s last recording session before his death, on the Brooks Benton-penned classic “Rainy Night in Georgia”; and the duet between country hitmaker Travis Tritt and the queen of histrionic soul delivery Patti LaBelle on “When Something is Wrong With My Baby.”

Moore shows he has the vocal chops of 10 country singers and can still wow ’em, and Tritt bravely breaks out of his country background, rather than regurgitate his style, as his contemporaries on the disc have apparently chosen to do.

Rhythm, Country & Blues

Wed. (2), 9-11 p.m., PBS

Production: Filmed in Nashville and Memphis by Thirteen/WNET and Perry Films in association with MCA Music Entertainment Group. Executive producers, David Horn, Al Teller; producers, Steven Galloway, Horn; director, Hart Perry.

Crew: Editor, Dana Heinz-Perry, Gary Bradley; sound, Grant Maxwell; music, Don Was.

Cast: With: Little Richard, Tanya Tucker, Gladys Knight, Vince Gill, Al Green, Lyle Lovett, Chet Atkins, Allen Toussaint, Patti LaBelle, Travis Tritt, Natalie Cole, Reba McEntire, Clint Black, The Pointer Sisters, B.B. King, George Jones, Conway Twitty, Sam Moore, the Staple Singers, Marty Stuart, Aaron Neville, Trisha Yearwood, Bill Ivey, Rufus Thomas, Ron Wynn, Nick Tosches, Don Was, Jim Dickinson, Wayne Jackson, Andrew Love, Owen Bradley.

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