Combustible Celluloid

Louis Jordan: Films and Soundies (2003)

3 Stars (out of 4)

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Buy Louis Jordan: Films and Soundies on DVD.

Though not very well known today, Louis Jordan was perhaps the first musician to perform the groovy, foot-stomping sound that became known as rock 'n' roll. Basically a souped-up version of swing and jazz, Jordan packed his sound into compact little songs about sex and food and booze.

In the 1940s, Jordan and his Tympany Band made three feature-length, low budget musicals with the thinnest of plots to hold together Jordan's songs. MVD's new DVD Louis Jordan: Films and Soundies combines the 25 songs from the three movies, plus another ten "soundies," or the equivalent of music videos that patrons could enjoy on primitive "video" jukeboxes.

Of course, the drawback is that the DVD eliminates the actual narrative flow from the films, and so some of the backdrops and costumes may not make much sense. Why is Jordan performing at a college? And why is he wearing a cowboy costume? It would have been great to see the entire films, Beware (1946), Reet, Petite and Gone (1947) and Look Out Sister (1948), which are not available anywhere else.

At the same time, though the films have been digitally mastered, they still sound particularly awful. The crackly mono strained my Bose stereo's capabilities, and I had to turn it way down just to listen. The films are a bit muddy and washed out, but I suspect that not the greatest care went into making them in the first place, much less preserving them.

In any case, Louis Jordan deserves to be better known, and this DVD is a great way to get to know his irresistible music. Just reading the song titles -- "Long Legg's Lizzie," "Got an Old Fashioned Passion for You," "Don't You Worry About That Mule," "Salt Pork, West Virginia," "That Chick's Too Young to Fry," etc. -- make you want to get up and dance.

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