All Mapped Out:
All Mapped Out is Susan Werner's Rattle and Hum.
Rattle and Hum was the movie about the rock band U2 that showcased the band in a more personal, less serious light than their collective persona had become. The principal difference between All Mapped Out and Rattle and Hum is that Werner's funny side is no secret to her audience. As a result, this video is an opportunity to get more than one concert's worth of funny from Werner.
This DVD shows Werner on the road, at home, and on the stage. We see her lifestyle on the road during a solo tour through New England: living out of hotel rooms, working out on in the hotel gym, and putting on makeup while getting ready for the evening's concert in the dressing room. We catch her talking about various topics: her road manager Jane Paul, dealing with fans, Starbuck's Coffee as a measure of one's politics, and the varying quality of soundmen and gigs around the country. Werner also presents some advice for budding songwriters on how the internet has affected her career, how to "make it" ("You get two chances: once because you are new and once because you are good."), how to minimize expenses while on tour by preparing oatmeal in your hotel room, dealing with inferior hotel-room coffee, and how to identify a successful song (HINT: it should be familiar sounding but not too unfamiliar sounding).
At home in Chicago, Werner invites us to her home studio and office. One of the most enjoyable segments on the DVD is Werner goofing around on her various instruments (electric keyboard, stand-up electric bass, electric guitar), playing snippets of songs and having a good time. Next, we get inside Werner's head for a look at how she crafts songs. Werner still writes her lyrics on an electric typewriter because "I like the clickety clack, and . . . can rip it out on paper and if I don't like it I can chuck it in the trash". At one point she pieces together the concepts "no parking", "phenylketonurics", and "surgeon general," fishing for inspiration for a song. (Fortunately, perhaps, no song arises from those concepts.) The final segment of Werner at home is an enjoyable time-lapse of her in front of her typewriter working.
While these looks into Werner's offstage activities have much to reveal, the music is the central focus of the DVD, allowing her to express herself through a variety of diverse musical styles: blues, jazz, classical, folk, and ragtime. The movie has 11 partial or complete performances in it from a number of famous venues including Club Passim, The Iron Horse, and The Bottom Line. Most of these songs are performed solo and are from her most recent album New Nonfiction. Three songs performed at the Bottom Line are with a two-piece band (drums and bass). The DVD contains a bonus six-song "Mini-concert" including performances from 1994, 2001, and 2002.
The DVD is directed by Harry Keates, who is building a reputation as THE folk-music videographer, having created music videos for the Nields, Tom Landa and the Paperboys, Lori McKenna, and Chris and Meredith Thompson. All Mapped Out opens with Movie of My Life, interspersed with archival footage of Susan growing up and of her early performances. The quality of the digital video is generally clear and crisp, with Keates identifying some interesting camera angles from which to shoot. Fades, graphics, and other video technical wizardry is kept to a minimum or are tastefully done. The video is quite professional looking. The sound quality on some segments can be poor, particularly during the concert footage at the Berkshire Museum which sounds tinny and the Bottom Line where her vocals are too subdued in the mix. Keates reassures me that, "The goal for the audio was to have it feel like you are there in the room---that it feels live rather than a sanitized studio recording."
Despite this minor complaint, I highly recommend this DVD for those who enjoy Werner's on-stage antics. As one of her fans interviewed for the DVD says, every performance is different. This DVD will show a really different side of Werner: revealing more about the artist than what she typically has time to show in an evening's concert.
[Editors Note: links to the trailer for All Mapped Out are posted at http://www.susanwerner.com/html/albums/amo-dvd.html]
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