Maybe these two music docs balance each other out—You See Me Laughin’ imagines a niche audience hungry for profiles of obscure Delta blues relics, and 5 Sides of a Coin imagines a mass audience still seeking a hip-hop primer. Only Laughin’ compels beyond its target demo. A kind of companion to 2001’s LaLee’s Kin, it introduces us to the Fat Possum label’s roster of self-taught players against a backdrop of poverty and otherworldly Delta remoteness. Groovy juke joint footage of the late Junior Kimbrough nearly sweats through the screen, and director Mandy Stein shows how the label’s white founders, who spent the ’90s seeking out R.L. Burnside, Asie Payton, Cedell Davis, and T-Model Ford, are treated by the bluesmen with varying degrees of skepticism. The talking heads in 5 Sides—from genre grandpas like Afrika Bambaataa and Gil Scott-Heron to Rahzel and Prince Paul—have stories to tell too, but director Paul Kell lets them off with windy quotes. Compared to VH1’s recent crate-digging And You Don’t Stop retrospective, this survey is a well-meaning Nickelodeon pep rally.

This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on November 2, 2004

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