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Movie review: ‘20 Feet From Stardom’

Posted 12:13am on Friday, Jun. 28, 2013

PG-13 (strong language, sexual material); 90 min.

They are voices without faces.

Darlene Love, Merry Clayton, Lisa Fischer or Judith Hill — you know their work, but you’d be hard pressed to single them out on the street.

Their work as background singers has provided some of pop music’s most arresting moments, and now, with 20 Feet From Stardom, there are finally faces (and stories) to put with the names long glimpsed only in liner notes.

Director Morgan Neville stitches together a loose chronology of the background vocalist, beginning with the seminal sounds of Ray Charles and Phil Spector in the late ’50s and early ’60s. From there, it’s a who’s who of rock and R&B — everyone from the Rolling Stones to Tom Jones turns up in archival footage — enlisting the services of these singular talents.

Along the way, Neville also folds in racial and sexual politics, as well as commentary from those backed up by these amazing singers: Bruce Springsteen, Mick Jagger and Sting all lavish praise on the skills each performer brings to the stage and studio.

There’s a faint sense of regret and stymied frustration lingering over the film as well. For many years, singers like Darlene Love weren’t credited for their work, or in the case of Merry Clayton, watched as solo careers fizzled with no explanation.

But thanks to this breezy, poignant and ultimately powerful documentary, these terrific talents get a well-deserved turn in the spotlight.

Exclusive: Angelika Dallas; Angelika Plano

— Preston Jones

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