Artist-focused music documentaries are becoming somewhat of a trend in 2020, but unlike the ego-laden docs some indie players have been releasing lately, James Reams was clearly looking to do something different with his biographical Like a Flowing River: A Bluegrass Passage. Rather than going through the pages that make up the book of his life and that of the Barnstormers one by one, he summarizes core events against the backdrop of the records he was listening to and the people he was spending his days with in what ultimately feels like a ‘greatest hits’ LP in the form of an hour-long film.
From a constructional point of view, there’s nothing particularly unconventional about Like a Flowing River: A Bluegrass Passage, but if we look closer at the substance of its subject, there’s a lot of layers to the persona Reams’ has presented as his own that are coming undone here in the most beautiful fashion possible. He’s unguarded as he talks about mourning his soulmate and digs through the instability of what often feels like a never-ending road trip of a life, but while his triumphs make for the warmest of moments in this documentary, they don’t overshadow the dark reflections to such an extent that we miss the point of their inclusion.
MORE ON JAMES REAMS: http://www.jamesreams.com/barnstormers/
Reams won’t hesitate to tell you that the artists who came before his career are the reason he’s still in love with the bluegrass genre today in Like a Flowing River, but when analyzing the origins of the lyrics to many of his songs (as they’re referenced throughout this film), there’s no debating whether or not the original content he’s stamped his name on is sourced directly from life experiences that are his and his alone. There’s a certain comradery between some of his verses and the melodies that follow them here and those of the Carters, the Church Brothers or Camp Creek Boys, yet I would be reticent to say that he admits to emulating any one specific hero over another in his output. The diversity of his craft (not unlike his life) is limitless, and I might not have known that had I not come across this all-new feature.
This is an artist who has been a prominent member of his underground circuit for a long time – over twenty-five years to be exact – and if I had to guess what his true fans wanted to see and hear in 2020 out of him, it would probably be everything that Like a Flowing River: A Bluegrass Passage is in its complete form. While some who aren’t as inspired by the genre might not be as intrigued by what Reams has to share about his experiences and the lives he’s touched in this film, I think those who appreciate bluegrass are going to treat Like a Flowing River like a humble masterpiece that isn’t so much a capper to a career as it is a live look-in on where its star has been and where he might be off to next.
by Bethany Page