Documentaries about U2, the Doors, Phil Ochs and Elvis Presley debut

Dion DiMucci shows his bouncy side.
Dion DiMucci shows his bouncy side.
Posted: January 24, 2012

COMPELLING documentaries about musical artists living, dead and questionable - U2, the Doors, Phil Ochs and Elvis Presley - have our eyes and ears this week. Also on deck: Tim McGraw's happiest heart tuggers, Seal's soul-stirred kiss-offs, Dion's trip to bluesville and a strong solo set from the Weakerthans' John Samson.

Elvis sighting! The guy sitting in the dark sure sounds like Elvis. And in the singular moment where he allows his face to be lit on camera, looks as we'd imagine the King would, were "Elvis Found Alive" (Highway 61 Entertainment/MVD, B).

Filmmaker Joel Gilbert claims to have discovered Presley hiding in a witness-protection program and persuaded him to sit for a lengthy interview. Therein, the King expresses his admiration for comic-book hero Captain Marvel Jr. (and women who look like the superhero's girlfriend), explains his own quest to put down radicals and (after being deputized by President Nixon), the drug-dealing mafioso he met through Frank Sinatra. It's also "revealed" how death threats all shook up El, forcing him to fake his demise and go "address unknown."

There are just enough nitpicky details here - purportedly gathered after Gilbert's Freedom of Information Act request - to make the case semi-plausible. Having the good ole boy rail against President Obama is a particularly realistic ploy. And hearing this guy sing his new song, "Lisa Marie," in a visually obscured music video (also found on the companion "Elvis Found Alive" CD), you'd swear it really is Presley - though, oddly, in his prime-time voice, not that of a 77-year-old.

Glad the King's taking good care of himself!

Spare no expense: To mark the 20th anniversary reissue of their momentous "Achtung Baby," U2 has opened the video vaults, sneaked cameras into rehearsals and ventured back to Berlin, where the album was recorded just as "The Wall" was coming down. All's found on the Blu-ray/DVD release of "From the Sky Down" (Universal/Interscope, B+).

The documentary dwells often on the quartet's creative struggles, though the most telling moment is in the bonus interview at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival, when Bono appears on the verge of a breakdown discussing intimacy issues. That is, how U2 might tone down its grandiose nature to make music that works on "small speakers," one-on-one. A clue of what's to come?

The Doors of Perception: As with the U2 doc, there's a lot of historic backpedaling on the Doors' umpteenth documentary "Mr. Mojo Risin': The Story of L.A. Woman" (Eagle Vision, B-), ostensibly about the group's final and jazziest album before Jim Morrison's passing. Best revelations? How Ray Manzarek and Robby Krieger lifted old licks to make 'em theirs.

A mighty Ochs: Bob Dylan was a jerk, ridiculing Phil Ochs for "stapling headlines to his chest" with dozens of caustically comic and true, rebel-rousing protest songs, long after Dylan had turned inward for groovy, psychedelic inspiration. That lack of peer support weighed heavily on the artist, we learn in "Phil Ochs: There But For Fortune" (PBS, A), an extremely well-composed and -populated documentary about this singular talent and the harsh times (at home and abroad) he chronicled. Missed this doc last night as the season premiere of "American Masters"? You'll find it available for streaming today at pbs.org. Also repeats early tomorrow morning (4 a.m.) on TV 39 and twice on Saturday (9 a.m. and 10 p.m.) on WHYY's 12.3 channel.

Down-home vibes: Need a mental pick-me-up? Tim McGraw delivers the goods with "Emotional Traffic" (Curb, B+). Rarely in a romantic jam, he rocks surprisingly hard through the first half before revealing his country self. Faith Hill and Ne-Yo add more elements of surprise. A Target exclusive.

Kellie Pickler ain't no rocket scientist, but the former "American Idol" finalist knows how to put those tart and twangy pipes to work on "100 Proof" (XIX, B).

Hardly resting on his laurels, Dion DiMucci shows an agreeably bouncy blues side on "Tank Full of Blues" (Blue Horizon, B). But maybe he protests too much in the title track: "I got a woman who wants me, another woman who wants me gone."

If you blink for Bright Eyes, you ought to hear John K. Samson, another sensitive poet/singer unafraid to show his wimpy side and small-town (Winnipeg) ways on "Provincial" (Epitaph/Anti, A-). Keep working on that thesis, dude. And stop pining for that married teacher and lay off the video games, OK?

Trained at Philly's School of Rock, Madi Diaz showcases a charming tune sense and voice to match on "Plastic Moon" (tinyOGRE, B). Could break your hearts, boys.

What a coincidence! Just the day after revealing he's split from wife Heidi Klum, the belter known as Seal drops "Soul 2" (Warner Bros., B), suggesting how it was with classy covers of "Let's Stay Together" and "Lean On Me" - and how it is with "Love T.K.O.," "The Backstabbers" and "Love Don't Live Here Anymore."

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