Martin Scorsese Presents The Blues

Martin Scorsese Presents "The Blues"

Part Two of Four

First Appeared at The Music Box, October 2003, Volume 10, #10

Written by John Metzger


The Soul of a Man

Various Artists
The Soul of a Man: A Film by Wim Wenders

The soundtrack for Wim Wenders’ The Soul of a Man is, perhaps, the most intriguing set of the series for contemporary rock ’n‘ roll addicts with little exposure to or interest in delving into the vast annals of the blues. They’ll get their history, alright, but it’s far easier for some to swallow it when there are no crackling recordings and the performers include folks like Lucinda Williams, Cassandra Wilson, Los Lobos, T Bone Burnett, and Beck. Indeed, only four of the tunes — J.B. Lenoir’s Alabama, John Mayall’s The Death of J.B. Lenoir, Blind Willie Johnson’s Soul of a Man, and Skip James’ Crow Jane — were recorded before 2001.

In The Soul of a Man, Wenders explores the lives of James and Lenoir, utilizing Johnson as the fictionalized link between them. In doing so, Wenders merges archival footage with contemporary renditions of the bluesmen’s songs. Undoubtedly effective as a film making strategy, the soundtrack is slightly less successful. Where Feel Like Going Home is everything a compilation from a project of this magnitude should be, The Soul of a Man feels like, and is, a tribute album, albeit a rather exemplary one. On Devil Got My Woman, Bonnie Raitt perfectly captures James’ ethereal vocal style, and the guitar work crafted by Marc Ribot on Johnson’s Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground is simply astounding. Elsewhere, Nick Cave thunders his way through Lenoir’s I Feel So Good; Eagle-Eye Cherry, Vernon Reid, and James Blood Ulmer sculpt a modern-day, murky ambience for Lenoir’s Down in Mississippi; and on Blind Lemon Jefferson’s See That My Grave Is Kept Clean, Lou Reed proves that the line between the blues and songs from The Velvet Underground’s catalog — Venus in Furs, for example — is a fine one.

Even so, the performances from James, Lenoir, and Johnson included on The Soul of Man, few as they are, so overshadow their contemporary counterparts that it’s a shame more archival material wasn’t included. At least Lenoir, received his own set. starstarstar ˝


46th Annual Grammy Award Winner:
Best Album Notes

46th Annual Grammy Award Winner:
Best Historical Album


Of Further Interest...

Part One: Feel Like Going Home: A Film by Martin Scorsese

Part Three: Warming by the Devil's Fire: A Film by Charles Burnett

Part Four: Piano Blues: A Film by Clint Eastwood


The Soul of a Man is available from Barnes & Noble.
To order, Click Here!

The Blues: A Musical Journey (CD Box Set) is available
from Barnes & Noble. To order, Click Here!

The Blues: A Musical Journey (DVD Box Set) is available
from To order, Click Here!



1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!


Copyright © 2003 The Music Box