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'Progress'? New Booker T. Jones video captures an evolving downtown Los Angeles

June 23, 2011 |  1:50 pm

Downtown Los Angeles has been a trusty go-to character since Hollywood’s beginnings. Harold Lloyd dangled from a clock in the silent era, and Bunker Hill, in its pre-high-rise slum-ward glory, was a go-to setting for early noir films. More recently, “(500) Days of Summer” re-imagined Los Angeles as a fairy tale fantasy land and L.A. Noir immortalized the city as a video game playground.

Director Aaron Hymes, however, largely played the city straight for the video of Booker T. Jones’ “Progress,” a cut from his latest release for local indie Anti-, “The Road From Memphis.” Said Hymes via email, “As soon as I heard the track, it reminded me of the gritty and progressive vignettes from 'Sesame Street' in the late '70s."

Old-fashioned split screens and mirroring effects give the clip a vintage feel, but shots of downtown’s Gold Line train instantly make it clear that this is the present day. My Morning Jacket’s Jim James has the vocal lead, which promises better days are ahead, and the mood falls somewhere between resignation and hopefulness. Jones' unmistakable organ provides the emotional uplift, its tones perking up the midtempo, sylphlike groove. 

Though a few shots in the video stray from downtown to venture out to Long Beach, Hymes said 90% of the clip is Los Angeles. The neighborhood is still one marked by contrasts, at least on the surface, as upper-class lofts sit adjacent to Skid Row. Yet Hymes was attracted to what he saw as the area's social commitment to improvement. He doesn't, however, sugarcoat, as images of vacant storefronts and deserted, paint-chipped parking meters alternate with preserved historic sites and new investments in public transportation. 

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"They were snapshots of things that were real and unaffected while simultaneously being filmed with the idea of hope and progression," Hymes said.

"I wanted to capture that upbeat, positive vibe and re-create those feelings with a contemporary twist. Downtown L.A. was the perfect setting," he continued. "It's a city that's still changing, still moving forward, and has a uniqueness and sunny positivity you just can't find anywhere else."

RELATED: 

Anti- gives Mavis Staples a second act

Album review: Booker T. Jones' 'The Road From Memphis'

Unsung heroes: Ex-tribute artist Charles Bradley finds his own voice

-- Todd Martens

Photo credit: Piper Ferguson

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