Sublime Soulful Singing
Fueled by an enthusiastic energy and graced with an impressively soulful soundtrack, American Soul is a retro trip into the world of 1970s music in the bustling city of Chicago. Following Don Cornelius and the infamous rise of Soul Train, this biographical drama is well written for the most part and starts things off in a promising way during this opening episode.
If there’s one gripe here though it comes from the first and last 30 seconds of the episode. Without divulging too much it reveals a future event that takes place in 2012 which does offset the tone of the show slightly. Once you get past that though, the rest of the episode opens up in the best possible way.
The predominant bulk of the episode takes place in 1971, Chicago, Illinois, right in the heart of the black community and their historical relationship with soul music. With racism rife all around, Don Cornelius attempts to get his idea of a TV show off the ground while meeting rejection and contempt everywhere he goes. Defiantly pursuing his dream, Don’s ambitions get him in trouble when a meeting with James Brown goes awry. Thankfully, another opportunity arises soon after that could make or break Don’s career with an opportunity to put on the Soul Train TV show he’s always dreamed of.
While this story is ongoing, interwoven around this is where the predominant bulk of music and dancing comes from. Three plucky young kids, JT, Simone and Kendell, all band together to try to make a name for themselves. After absolutely flooring an audition with a pitch-perfect rendition of Smiling Faces Sometimes by The Undisputed Truth, the group are brought back down to Earth after the owner discovers their real age. We leave the group after some initial reservations with the intent of auditioning at Soul Train.
Rounding out the trio of storylines that appear to be the main crux of the show sees Vietnam soldier, and Simone’s Father, Joe phoning home. A lengthy phone call between his daughter and wife ensues and despite a lack of development here, it’s already becoming clear this story may well serve the purpose of emphasizing this racial divide that seems to be lurking around the fringes of this story.
The choreography and soundtrack are the real winner here though and for this alone, American Soul is well worth a watch. I hope the rest of the series keeps up this charade of blending soulful music numbers with well-shot dancing as it really does help set this show apart. It complements the drama perfectly too and cools off some of the tenser moments as well. Despite a somewhat formulaic overcoming-the-odds story, there’s enough here to get excited about and based on the first episode alone, is one to certainly keep an eye on.