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See Elton John play the blues with Jack White in trailer for “American Epic”


PBS Elton John, Taj Majal, Steve Martin and Edie Brickell, Willie Nelson and the late Merle Haggard are among the artists who will recreate classic American recording sessions from the 1920s for The American Epic Sessions, a feature-length film companion to an upcoming PBS documentary about the rural recording boom of the 1920s.

Jack White, Alabama Shakes, BeckThe Avett Brothers, rapper Nas and R&B singer Raphael Saadiq also are on board.

For the film, and a companion album produced by White and T Bone Burnett, engineer Nicholas Bergh, rebuilt a 1920s vintage recording system — a single microphone, a six-foot amplifier rack and a live record cutting lathe powered by a weight-driven pulley system, giving performers three minutes to capture live their versions of classic performances by the founding fathers of country and blues like The Carter Family, Blind Willie Johnson and Mississippi John Hurt.

The American Epic Sessions will debut on PBS stations Tuesday, June 6 at 8 p.m. Columbia Records will release new studio performances from The American Epic Sessions on May 12, with a vinyl edition coming from Jack White’s Third Man Records.

The American Epic Sessions is an outgrowth of American Epic, a documentary film series PBS will air Tuesdays May 16, 23 and 30 at 9 p.m. that will explore what producers call the “big bang of modern popular music” — the explosion of recordings of undiscovered talent from the Appalachians to the Mississippi Delta to Hawaii that first captured on record blues, country and gospel music. Columbia also will release a 100-song companion soundtrack to the series on May 12. 

A preview of the series is streaming now on YouTube, where you can hear Elton John and Jack White playing the blues.

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