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Category:    Home > Reviews > Documentary > Music > Tom Dowd & The Language Of Music

Tom Dowd & The Language Of Music (Documentary)


Picture: C+     Sound: C+     Extras: B     Film: A-



Though Michael Moore’s Bowling For Columbine was both 2003’s most commercially successful and controversial documentary film of the year, it was not the best.  That honor goes to producer/director Mark Moormann’s remarkable Tom Dowd & The Language Of Music.  Dowd left us in 2002, but the man who was once an unknowing part of The Manhattan Project became one of the most important single figures in the evolution of recorded sound.


Deciding not to teach dated physics because the innovations he helped discover were still federal government top secrets at the time, he suddenly found himself involved in recording music.  Soon, he was behind the counsels of the top recording studios and immediately innovated the counsels operations.  He is the one who replaced knobs with sliders on recording counsels, and in his exclusive tenure at Atlantic Records, convinced the company to use magnetic two-channel tape.  They still insisted on having the material cut onto record discs, but Dowd’s initiative gave the label true stereo ahead of every other label in the business.  Then there was the amazing and long-ranging series of talents he worked for through the years.  From Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin, Tito Puente and Ray Charles, to Eric Clapton, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and The Allman Brothers, he brought the best out of the most important names in 20th Century music that he worked with.  His story, without any exaggeration whatsoever, is the story of American music.  This is an all-time must-see among all music films ever made and actually qualifies as a Rocumentary, belated as it was made, because so much of the music is from the time of the original film cycle.


The letterboxed 1.85 X 1 image is sadly not anamorphically enhanced, but the content is still visually varied like any other such far-reaching documentary.  This is so well edited that it never quits for its entire ninety minutes run.  The new footage was shot by cinematographer Patrick Longman.  The Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo is lacking some Pro Logic surrounds, but I wished this were in outright 5.1 DTS and maybe we’ll see such a mix in the future when this is issued in a High Definition format.  Extras include a stills gallery set to interview audio for 2 minutes, trailers for a few other Palm DVD releases, weblinks, three deleted scenes, footage behind the scenes shooting the films new segments and a terrific plethora of extra interview footage that had to be cut for time but belongs in the main feature by the great names featured including Dowd, Charles, Clapton, Atlantic Records legend Ahmet Ertegun, recording innovator Les Paul, writing legend Mike Stoller, Jerry Wexler, both superproducers Arif Mardin and Phil Ramone among 14 who have much more to say.


To put in bluntly, no collection on music films can be complete without Tom Dowd & The Language Of Music.  Only rivaled recently by the likes of Standing In The Shadows Of Motown, this is so great; it is practically mandatory to see and to own.  Get it!



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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