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Tom Dowd and the Language of MusicTom Dowd and the Language of Music (2003)

           Pick up most any hit record beginning in the late 1940s, especially any recording done with Atlantic Records, and you will likely see that one Tom Dowd was the producer or recording engineer. In this loving tribute to Dowd, who died October 27, 2002 before the film was finished, those inside the guild honor the memory of one whom they universally acknowledge was a legendary genius and wonderful human being. In his younger years Dowd was a physics student at Columbia, and even worked on the atom bomb project (he was present at the Bikini Atoll tests), but his mother was an opera singer and perhaps he was destined for music. Dowd was a master technical innovator, musical aesthete, coach, father figure, and psychologist. He himself narrates most of the film, but we are also treated to original concert footage (Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin, etc.) and retrospective interviews with a number of the stars whose sounds he perfected, including Ray Charles, Eric Clapton, and Greg Allman. The five minutes or so when Dowd sits at a console and walks us through the thirty-year-old master copy of "Layla," starting with only the guitars and then adding the various parts until they pulse with that incredibly evocative sound that defined an era, interspersed with poignant reflections by Clapton, are worth the entire film. One disappoint in this otherwise fascinating glimpse of the history of music recording since the late 1940s is that we learn nothing at all personal about Dowd, and nothing at all about any weaknesses, failures, misjudgments, and the like, that would have made this entirely likable person even more richly human.

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