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review added: 6/19/02



Nathaniel Saunders: Bimini Nights
2002 - Victory Records

review by Matt Rowe of The Digital Bits

Nathaniel Saunders: Bimini Nights Program Rating: C+

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): C/C/C+

Specs and Features

95 min, NR, full frame (1.33:1), single-sided, single-layered, Amaray keep case packaging, video interview, video of recording session, 16 songs (audio only), photo gallery, recipes, credits, program-themed menu screens, song access (16 songs see track listing below), languages: English (DD 2.0), subtitles: none


There's an island that pulses in the heart of the Bermuda Triangle, off the coast of Florida, called Bimini. It's there that Ernest Hemingway did much of his fishing, while having lived on the 7-mile long island, that's just a mere 50 miles from the city of Miami. It's because of that legacy that many people are drawn to this Bahamas Island. It's what drew, I'm sure, Victory Records' Tony Brummel to the island and eventually to the bar that contains a local treasure named Nathaniel Saunders.

Saunders is a 90-plus-year-old banjo picker, with a helluva legacy all of his own and plenty of stories to tell concerning his life and his experiences with Ernest Hemingway. Saunders was Hemingway's fishing guide on many trips and is claimed to have contributed key sections to Hemingway's classic, The Old Man and the Sea.

This disc was created with the express purpose of capturing the tales and music of Nathaniel Saunders before it was lost. The music, which is Caribbean in nature and unique to the area, is valued for the raw quality it possesses. Tony Brummel caters to an audience that would find this unrefined material (as island natives produce it) an enjoyable source of music.

Admittedly, it took me several viewings to catch onto what Mr. Brummels was attempting to achieve here. Now, I judge myself to be a pretty good connoisseur of music in almost any style and genre, but it took me a bit of time to distance myself from the seemingly hybrid CD/DVD. That is say, it felt to me that the DVD was little more than a spruced up CD. But eventually, I grasped what Brummels was trying to accomplish and I began to admire him for his desire to historically archive a style of music that may not survive the passing of these musicians on this tiny island.

The disc is somewhat confusing at first. As consumers, we're very used to doing things first and reading how to do it later. We toss aside game manuals, tutorials, etc, to get right at the thing we most want to be doing. The same is true of DVDs. There is a reason why the studios put "Play Movie" as the first menu choice. It's to watch the movie... NOW! On this disc, "The Songs" is in that enviable position, thus becoming the first selection. But guess what? Many will press that selection first... and be greeted with a listing of songs. When you select one, you're presented with a still of Saunders - a logo plastered on the screen with a CD ad and music - while the music plays. Although there are 16 songs on this DVD, they are here as audio documents only.

But the collection of songs is just one in a group of interesting features. As a matter of fact, the songs should probably have been placed last on the menu, to avoid the feeling that this is a music video as opposed to a video journal. There's a murky-looking video interview with Nathaniel, that takes several screenings to absorb. There's also a taped recording session that is quite a film all by itself. We're presented with a collection of the island's musical talent - Saunders is here but there are others as well, equally talented in their own way. Most impressive was the six-string guitar and vocals of Jimmy Smith, who reminded me, in his own way, of Keith Richards. Proud of being singled out for this video/audio recording, they banter and maneuver themselves to achieve the greatest effect. At the end of this, we're treated to a song by Jimmy Smith that is nothing short of amazing. (Note to Tony Brummels: This guy should have his own disc). This video document is rounded out by a text history of Bimini, detailed recipes of 8 native dishes, a series of photos of the band and the island, a written tribute to Ernest Hemingway, credits and, finally, a 2-page video catalogue of other CDs available from Victory World.

Technically, there is nothing visually outstanding on this disc. The videos are taped using a camcorder. This is the same with the audio portions of those same recordings. It requires several samplings to appreciate the whole effect, so be absolutely prepared for this eventuality. The 16 songs are better heard on a CD, and are available as such, but work in this environment well enough. You can just shut the TV off and listen to the songs as they cycle/shuffle without your intervention. I won't review the actual music here - suffice it to say that they're interesting Caribbean songs that reflect the soul of the island. They're sung with pride and delivered in style.

The sound quality of the disc is good, but only as good as the camcorder allows. There are garbled and indistinguishable words at times. The sound quality of the songs, however, is rendered as they were recorded in Saunders bar (which was transformed into a recording studio). They're remarkably clean, given the lack of perfect conditions.

If you love music and you give this material a chance, you eventually come to agree with Brummels' approach - it wasn't Saunders he was trying to capture here so much as he was trying to make this style of music endure. And if the quality is somewhat lacking, the effort (at least) is admirable.

I have just one final thing to say... I hope that I'll look as good when I'm 75 as Nathaniel Saunders does at 90!

Matt Rowe
mattrowe@thedigitalbits.com
Visit Matt Rowe's MusicTAP ------ Music Flows There!


Track Listing:

Percy Francis
Wendell Lavarte
Balamina
Rosie
Big Fat Slob (for Ernest Hemingway)
Wasp Bite Obie
Bahama Melody
Keyla Edwards
Old Uncle Edward
Mary Martin
Father
Reta
Dover House
Run Daryl Run
Suzanne
Stephanie




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