is hard to be talented, at least in show business. As mediocrities rise, worthy artists often
languish in near obscurity, especially if they have a style slightly difficult
to package for mass market consumption.
Victor Mignatti follows six performers who have had just enough success
to keep plugging away at their careers in This
opens this Friday in New York.
one time, the Sweet Inspirations were a top act on the so-called “chitlin”
circuit. They were on a major record
label and charted fairly often. Things
slowed down for them somewhat when Cissy Houston left to pursue a solo career,
but they were still heard by millions when they became Elvis Presley’s regular
back-up singers. They still love the
King and pay the bills through their performances at tribute shows. However, they are hoping to get back on the
charts and into the spotlight with a new album.
Angell is a busy man. He is producing
the Sweet Inspirations’ album as well as comeback projects for one-time soul
diva Pat Hodges, the former member of Hodges, James & Smith (HJS). He also has his own solo projects. The audience will see a lot of his townhouse,
which serves as his informal studio, where the Inspirations and Hodges lay down
in New York, Bobby Belfry pays his dues as an aspiring cabaret singer, while
mostly working at the Upper Eastside piano bar Brandy’s. He has no connection to Angell (as for as
viewers know), self-producing his own CDs.
Frankly, he would like to find producer willing to take him on, but cabaret
is a specialized field, misunderstood by many.
Nonetheless, Belfry has an opportunity to make a statement when he books
a CD/DVD release gig at Feinstein’s, arguably the country’s premiere room for
somehow gives each their due as they strive for their next and/or first big
break. For some, their drive to advance
in the business starts to flag during this time, while the Angell, the uncanny
multi-tasker produces a rap label’s guest vocal track by original and defining
Sweet Inspiration Cissy Houston, only to be robbed of his credit in an act of
supreme (but not inconsequential) pettiness.
is why Hollywood often portrays businessmen as villains. It does not acutely reflect the character of
the overall private sector, but it holds a mirror up to the ethically
challenged entertainment field. Should
my publishing company ever fabricate excuses to withhold royalties, they would
become a pariah, yet such practices were commonplace in the recording industry
for decades—and probably still are. Such
is the business the This Time artists
are trying to make it in. It certainly
is not easy.
stylistically, the Sweet Inspirations and Belfry do not necessarily clash, per
se, they are not an obvious tandem. Hodges
on the other hand, could easily share a playlist with the Inspirations. Still, Angell’s own project, leading a Jackie
Gleason-style lounge band under his “Monte Carlo” persona, is not so far
removed from Belfry’s act. So maybe they
all fit together, but the film still feels like it whipsaws about a bit.
Time is a sympathetic and engaging boots-on-the-ground look at music as an
unforgiving business. It should be an
eye-opener for many viewers, especially those who have ever stiffed a band’s
tip jar or make a practice of illegally downloading music. This film puts a human face on such boorish
behavior. That is a worthy enough
endeavor, right there. Recommended with some
affection, This Time opens this
Friday (8/10) in New York at the Quad Cinema.
Labels: Bobby Belfry, Cissy Houston, Documentary, Sweet Inspirations