Reviewed by: Scott Macdonald

Music documentaries flummox me. Most of the time, I'm hopelessly ignorant of anything peripheral to a good bit of music. Bearing this in mind, Troubadours is a reasonably cosy and affectionate look at singer/songwriter artists making their boom at the end of the Sixties in Los Angeles. Doug Weston's The Troubadour was "The place to be, a spaceship". Steve Martin dryly notes "The Troubadour was Mecca, although there was already a club called the Mecca just down the road".

An early archive find has an artist proclaiming "We can stop world wars before they've even started". The rock and roll movement slowed during the hippy movement, and while "Rock and Roll took its breath.", enter the singer/songwriter boom. It's the union of folk music and rhythm & blues.

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The film is crammed full of archive footage, talking heads and some cracking music. Much of the runtime is dedicated to Carole King and James Taylor's relationship - a purely musical one. They "speak the same language" of music which "communicates directly without reason or analysis". Regarding musical presence, Taylor "had it, whatever it was". In archive pictures and footage, he looks like Billy Crudup's character in Almost Famous. King is affectionately described as "having a diaper in one hand, a bassline in the other", an "earthy Jewish mother".

Taylor's song, I've Seen Fire And I've Seen Rain, is crosscut with Vietnam protests, which reinforces its cultural influence as a "calm down" song.

The artists hang out with one another, and describe the joining of ideas, politics and new art as "incestuous in the best way". Jackson Browne gatecrashes with a "suitcase full of songs". During this time of unexpurgated creativity, the movie delves into the artists' habitual soft drug use, LSD and grass - "it's a sacrament". Cheech & Chong ruminate on "what else they got around?"

Once a week, "insane" master of ceremonies Doug Weston throws open the club doors for a "Hoot night" - an open microphone evening, where anyone can show their work. Artists get signed up, but Weston offers few concessions (a hilarious memo - "I see no reason to support the aristocracy"), and restrictive contract terms.

The movie briefly dissects the influence of Jodi Mitchell - a brilliant hippy singer/songwriter discovered "in a park in Paris". Kris Kristofferson describes her as "like Shakespeare Reincarnated" Taylor and Mitchell had an artistic relationship, which he says was "too good to last", in a lowered pitch of voice, with a wistful look away.

Ultimately, the trouble with Troubadours is that it feels like it's a closed off world; the film doesn't go far enough to make it feel accessible to outsiders, and I don't know the secret handshake. Fans will undoubtedly love it, and should add a star to the rating.

Reviewed on: 22 Jun 2011
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A documentary about the singer/songwriter boom in late Sixties Los Angeles.
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Director: Morgan Neville

Starring: Carole King, Bonnie Raitt

Year: 2011

Runtime: 91 minutes

Country: US

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