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Linda Ronstadt is seen during a recording session in 1978. Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice, is one of an abundance of music documentaries released this year.Ed Thrasher/Reuters

In 1974, Linda Ronstadt sang that she’d been cheated and mistreated, been put down and pushed around. The song was When I Will be Loved, which was a legitimate question in the seventies FM-rock era in which she thrived. “The rock and roll culture seems to be dominated by hostility against women," Ronstadt said at the time. As for being loved, perhaps now is the time. No performing because of Parkinson’s disease, the 10-time Grammy winner took a victory lap in 2019, a year that witnessed her induction as a Kennedy Center Honouree and saw the release of Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice, one of an abundance of music documentaries released in the past 12 months.

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Filmmaker A.J. Eaton offered a portrait of a folk-rock icon in David Crosby: Remember My Name.Handout

The Sound of My Voice is just one of the docs from this year that looked back on the Southern California folk and rock scene of bell-bottom yore. The Cameron Crowe-produced David Crosby: Remember My Name is an astonishing piece of filmmaking that serves as blunt final statement of explanation and regret from a musician seen by some as an elder folk-rock statesman and by others as an incompatible jerk.

On the other side of the spectrum was Echo in the Canyon, Andrew Slater’s jasmine-scented homage to the jingle-jangle folky psychedelia of Los Angeles in the mid-sixties. Inexplicably hosted by Bob Dylan’s son, Jakob Dylan, the film has an ambitious but muddled structure.

More California: The year’s most talked about documentary may have been Amazing Grace, the long-buried Aretha Franklin live gospel film that had its official Southern California premiere this April right where the concert happened in 1972, at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles. The documentary, filmed by Sydney Pollack during the live sessions for her classic album of the same name, is more stunning evidence of the late Franklin’s unrivaled vocal prowess.

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Gordon Lightfoot: If You Could Read My Mind offered a straightforward chronicling of the Canadian musician's life and career.Courtesy of GAT

Music docs came in all shapes, sizes and screening options, ranging from the artful, tightly-focused Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love (about the Greece-based love affair of Marianne Ihlen and Leonard Cohen) to the straightforward chronicling of Gordon Lightfoot: If You Could Read My Mind to the 16-hour PBS mini-series Country Music, with which Ken Burns continued his journey into America’s soul.

In contrast to the epic length of Country Music was Lost Weekend, a 14-minute shortie about Kurt Jefferis, a fan who in 1984 won an MTV contest to spend 48 hours with Van Halen. At the time, frontman David Lee Roth predicted that Jefferis “won’t know what will happen. And when it’s over, he probably won’t be able to remember it anyway.” Well, this is why we have music documentaries – to chronicle the sounds of our times and to contextualize the music and our memories. To that end, 2019 gave us HBO’s The Apollo (on the iconic Harlem venue), Netflix’s Homecoming (about Beyoncé's 2018 Coachella spot), Stanley Nelson’s Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool, and Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese, a Netflix concert doc about a wild 1975 tour.

Docs that took on contentious subjects included Lifetime’s Surviving R. Kelly (on the R&B singer’s history of alleged sexual abuse) and HBO’s controversial Leaving Neverland (which heard from male accusers about childhood sexual abuse allegedly suffered at the hands of Michael Jackson). After Surviving R. Kelly was aired, Kelly’s streaming numbers doubled and he was formally charged with 10 counts of aggravated sexual abuse.

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In Leaving Neverland, accusers spoke of childhood sexual abuse they allegedly suffered at the hands of Michael Jackson.Dan Reed/The Associated Press

Classic-rock fans were not underserved in quantity, but perhaps in quality. While Bruce Springsteen’s Western Stars concert film offered gorgeous music and handsome visuals, the Stetson-wearing New Jerseyite himself was vague and studious when the subject matter turned to his personal shortcomings. Daniel Roher’s blinkered Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band told the group’s story strictly from Robertson’s point of view.

My favourite music doc wasn’t much of a film at all. Neil Young’s Mountaintop, a fly-on-the-wall account of the making of the Crazy Horse album Colorado, captures recording-studio gripes, grunge and technical difficulties, starring a cantankerous Young and a long-suffering recording engineer who had to deal with a demanding boss and a nasty case of poison oak. The results are often hilarious, as suitable for a reality television series as for a 92-minute rock doc.

Where Young’s voice in Mountaintop is strong and imperfect, Ronstadt’s is much diminished. At the end of The Sound of My Voice, she tried to accompany relatives on a traditional Mexican song, but admitted “this isn’t really singing.” The documentary, now available digitally and on DVD and Blu-ray, remembers when it was.

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