by: Jon Blistein
Jack White, Elton John, Nas, Taj Mahal and more will explore and recreate one of the most pivotal moments in American music history in the new three-part documentary, American Epic, and the feature-length film, The American Epic Sessions. American Epic premiered at Sundance and will air on PBS May 16th, 23rd and 30th, while The American Epic Sessions will air June 6th on PBS. A massive American Epic Sessions soundtrack will arrive May 12th via Third Man Records, Legacy Recordings and Columbia.
American Epic will chronicle a period of monumental change for the music industry. As director Bernard MacMahon explains in the trailer, in the Twenties, record companies feared that radio was about to become the dominant player in the music industry, so they ventured across the country with the first electrical recording rig in search of new artists and markets. While none of these machines survived, audio engineer Nicholas Bergh managed to reassemble one from its original parts, and his rig was used to record all the music for the accompanying film, The American Epic Sessions.
“Some of the people who were just incredible heroes of mine first recorded on those machines in the Twenties,” Taj Mahal says in the trailer. “To be to go all the way back and come through this portal again, in this lifetime, is phenomenal!”
White and producer T. Bone Burnett helmed The American Epic Sessions which will feature performances from the Alabama Shakes, Beck, Avett Brothers, Los Lobos, Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Steve Martin, Edie Brickell, Rhiannon Giddens, Raphael Saadiq and more. The 100-song soundtrack will boast a mix of these new recordings, as well as archival recordings from the Twenties and Thirties.
An American Epic companion book will be published May 2nd via Touchstone. In the book, MacMahon and producer Allison McGourty will offer a behind-the-scenes account of their travels as they searched for long-lost recordings and people who witnessed these early sessions. The book will include unseen photographs and artwork, as well as contributions from Taj Mahal, Nas, Willie Nelson and more.