Review: ‘Sessions at West 54th’

PBS joins the musical frenzy with 26 episodes of the somewhat adult-skewing "Sessions at West 54th," a performance plus interview show that runs closer to "Austin City Limits" - a show no one has ever improved upon - than "Unplugged."

PBS joins the musical frenzy with 26 episodes of the somewhat adult-skewing “Sessions at West 54th,” a performance plus interview show that runs closer to “Austin City Limits” – a show no one has ever improved upon – than “Unplugged.”

Esteemed documentarian D.A. Pennebaker (“Don’t Look Back” and “Monterey Pop”) and Chris Hegedus give interview segs an artier look than most, but perfs are full of the tried-and-true closeups and slow pans. To the show’s credit, the schedule keeps shoot dates and airdates close to one another, which gives the added boost of timeliness.

Griffith and Bragg are pleasant enough performers (each gets a half-hour) and in line with the genteel nature of most upcoming episodes – Richard Thompson and Suzanne Vega on Aug. 16, Shawn Colvin and Keb Mo on Aug. 23, Philip Glass and Kurt Elling on Aug. 30 and Emmylou Harris and Daniel Lanois Sept. 6. Oddly, Griffith speaks in two distinctly different voices – high-pitched from the stage, lower and calmer backstage – that’s bound to have fans scratching their heads.

Best of all, the guests are a talkative lot, able to expound at length after a single question, keeping host Chris Douridas’ hem-and-haw interview style off-camera.

Sessions at West 54th

Sat. (26), 11 p.m.-12 a.m., PBS

Production

Filmed in New York by American Program Service. Executive producer, Jeb Brien; producer, Monica Hardiman; director, Jim Gable.

Cast

Host: Chris Douridas. Performers: Nanci Griffiths, Billy Bragg.
camera (interviews), D.A. Pennebaker, Chris Hegedus; production designer, Duke Durfee; lighting director, Stan Crocker; editor, Wyatt Smith.
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