Bluegrass is a genre that has, and always will be, made for and by the people, and I think that the new documentary Like a Flowing River: A Bluegrass Passage regarding the life and career of singer/songwriter James Reams goes a long way towards solidifying that narrative in 2020. While the film is essentially a biography of Reams, the star of the show himself comes across – at times – as being a little hesitant to turn the spotlight on his accomplishments exclusively. Like a Flowing River: A Bluegrass Passage is a uniquely bluegrass story because of the tribute it pays to the influences this artist has dedicated much of professional life to (and especially as it’s referenced in the soundtrack of this film). 

JAMES REAMS: http://www.jamesreams.com/barnstormers/

Reams’ music with and without the Barnstormers is a feature as much as any of the interviewees here are, which tells you just how much weight is put into the storytelling aspect of this documentary before ever watching a single frame of footage. There isn’t quite as much live content as I would have preferred, but that wasn’t the goal in making Like a Flowing River: A Bluegrass Passage; on the contrary, I think Reams wanted to frame his relationship with the medium (as well as his life partner Tina Aridas and collaborators inside of the insular bluegrass underground) with more gusto than he ever did any of the spectacularly virtuosic performances he’s given so far. That’s admirable, but moreover, a more accessible direction to take in attracting viewers from outside of your base. 

Even when he us talking about the biggest successes of his career, like his work with Tom Paley, Bill Christopherson and even Walter Hensley, there’s a humble tone to the way James Reams revisits the past in Like a Flowing River: A Bluegrass Passage that makes me feel like he’s being as real as a musician can be on film here. There’s no big league attitude in the face of a storied collection of recordings in this film – it’s amazingly organic in spirit and design in terms of how we’re allowed to get to know Reams as though we’re having a couple of beers with him down at the local tavern, which is something that has been missing with some of the other documentaries I’ve watching in 2020 and 2019. 

AMAZON: https://www.amazon.com/Reams-James-Flowing-Bluegrass-Passage/dp/B08731C65W

Brilliantly directed and starring a player that you will be talking about if you weren’t already, Like a Flowing River: A Bluegrass Passage is a fun music film that you should see if you’re hankering for some bucolic balladry and good ol’ fashioned biographical truths as delivered from a homespun troubadour. It’s hard not to fall in love with the approach and aesthetical appreciation James Reams has for his work after watching this documentary, and even though the bluegrass beat hasn’t been quite as incendiary this year as it was in the two to have preceded it, a film like this one definitely gives serious fans something to cling to as 2020 winds down to a merciful conclusion. 

Nicole Killian

About The Author

Nicole Killian

Nicole loves to go cross country skiing, swimming, reading and critiquing books, listening and critiquing music, some culinary arts, pottery, spending time with my daughter, cheesy horror films.

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