By Robyn Collins
In 2015, Jack White partnered with T Bone Burnett and Robert Redford to executive produce a three-part documentary series, feature film, and recording project centered on the pioneering days of recorded sound called American Epic.
Jack White said of the project in a statement, “In ‘American Epic’ we can examine how important the fact is that when phonograph records were invented, for the first time ever, women, minorities, poor rural men and even children were given the opportunity to say whatever they wanted in song, for the whole world to hear, shockingly without much censorship. What they were allowed to say on phonograph recordings, they were not allowed to speak in public or in person. That is an astounding thought.”
The film, titled The American Epic Sessions, features Beck, Nas, Elton John, Alabama Shakes, Willie Nelson, the late Merle Haggard, and more.
Artists were recorded through authentically engineered equipment from the ’20s to pay tribute to the Carter Family, Charlie Patton, Mississippi John Hurt, and more.
Nas recorded the 1928 song “On the Road Again” by the Memphis Jug Band for the project. “When you hear me saying it, you might think I wrote it, because it sounds like something today,” he said in a press release. “These guys are talking about carrying guns, shooting something, protecting their honor, chasing after some woman who’s done them dirty…it’s the same as rap music today, so it just tells you something about American culture, American music.”
The recordings made during the filming of The American Epic Sessions, as well as some of the archival music featured in the documentaries, will be available. Legacy Recordings will release a companion soundtrack, a 100-song box set, and archival recordings.
Columbia Records will release the American Epic Sessions studio performances. Jack White’s Third Man Records will release the Sessions soundtrack and selections of the archival recordings on vinyl. It all arrives on May 12. An American Epic companion book arrives on May 2 via Touchstone.
PBS (in the U.S.) and BBC (in the UK) will air the three-part documentary every Tuesday beginning May 16. The film airs on June 6.
Check out the trailer below.