‘Elk River Sessions’ is a sincere yet uneven look into the passion of local Denton musicians

‘Elk River Sessions’ is a sincere yet uneven look into the passion of local Denton musicians

‘Elk River Sessions’ is a sincere yet uneven look into the passion of local Denton musicians
April 25
17:00 2018

“Elk River Sessions” is a powerful and genuine piece of art.

The documentary sets out to accomplish many things with noble intent, and although it falls short on a technical level, it goes far beyond any expectations I had for the story.

It follows a few dozen local musicians from Denton during their journey up into the Missouri Ozarks as they produce a folk album. The cabin’s owner, Catfish goes on to dedicate the proceeds of the album to dear friend Traci Batson, who suffers chronically from multiple sclerosis (MS), which continues to progress throughout the film.

Along with the musicians’ journey, Traci’s time in and out of hospitals and doctor’s visits are also chronicled.

Seeing as how the album was dedicated to helping her and her husband with the many medical bills accompanying her struggles, every scene that showcased a finished song almost felt like a small battle victory for Batson’s fight for her health.

I often felt as though the time in the cabin bonded everyone very closely, and the interviews throughout their time there were fantastically personal and sincere. The passion for their music and their love for Batson was conveyed so purely, and it is clear that this was a work of genuine intent.

The music, which perfectly operates as a balance for both the subject and soundtrack of the film is equally beautiful.

Denton has always been known for its boundless amount of musicians, but I can’t imagine this album sounding any better than it did in the film with the artists chosen for the project. Its folky sound echoed the relaxed nature of their time within the cabin, but it also amplified the moments on screen when themes of camaraderie and community were front and center.

The film is not without problems, however.

Throughout the film there were sound mixing problems. Interviews were constantly at different volumes — with their individual sound quality all over the place — and the background music fading out for interviews was often still too loud, making it difficult to hear what was being said in multiple interviews. 

It was also a bit difficult to follow the narrative and apply a logical timeline to the events.

Much of the B-roll footage showcased what seemed to be several unrelated scenes at totally random times within the recording process. It was often quite chaotic, and I found it very difficult to keep track of what was going on or what someone was trying to say when attempting to contribute to the overall composition of the piece.

That may be the charm of this film, though — a bunch of musicians from different bands all playing and fooling around with the sound they were trying to get right.

Amidst the many instruments were several musicians communicating what they had in mind for the song they were making at in the moment.

Although it’s not particularly a pleasant mix of sounds, it captures how musicians communicate and how effective the method is when hearing the final versions of the respective track.

Finally, the editing is very choppy, and it often felt like the wrong clips were layered with the right audio. There were also stylistic choices made early on that were later abandoned, making the early parts of the film feel like they could have easily been cut from a separate documentary.

As mediocre as the technical production is, it is the passion behind the project, as well as the generous people, that made “Elk River Sessions” such a pleasure to watch.

Seeing the group work so hard on an album that would go on to assist in paying the medical expenses for Batson — a Denton local — felt like the perfect representation of the culture in Denton. 

My rating: 3/5

Featured Image: The Mountain group of Elk River Sessions performs on stage Thursday, April 19 at Dan’s Silverleaf. Elk River Sessions played at Dan’s Silverleaf in Denton on Thursday as part of Thin Line Festival’s music lineup. Photo by Jake King

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Zach Helms

Zach Helms

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