Even the subject of the slight, likable doc This Ain’t No Mouse Music would admit that he’s not the most fascinating person in the picture.
Chris Strachwitz has dedicated his life to recording, preserving, and releasing the deepest of roots musics, tracking down performers connected to the oldest of folk ways and bringing them to the world via Arhoolie Records, the label Strachwitz founded a half-century ago with Mance Lipscomb’s Texas Sharecropper and Songster. If it had been titled like Strachwitz titles LPs, Chris Simon and Maureen Gosling’s loose-limbed film could be named California Archivist, Music-Lover, and Record-Store Proprietor, which makes him an interesting guy, but once the people he documents turn up, This Ain’t No Mouse Music becomes much more interesting.
It’s no insult to say the man can’t hold the screen like Taj Mahal, who tells delicious stories here in new interviews, or the excellent then-and-now performance footage of Big Mama Thornton, Beausoleil, Clifton Chenier, and more. They’re the main attraction, here, but Strachwitz’s enthusiasm — “This ain’t no mouse music!” he’s given to shouting — and a brace of choice anecdotes prove compelling on their own.
Best story: how he lucked into the publishing rights to Country Joe McDonald’s “I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-to-Die Rag,” bought his El Cerrito, California, record shop with the proceeds, and then gave the rights back when McDonald asked nicely. Still, this would be improved by more music and less chatter. Maybe take Strachwitz’s example, and give us a film about that scene-stealing Treme Brass Band?