Chadwick Murray’s Voice Sings True in the Bastards of Soul

17th Dallas International Film Festival

By Brian Landa

Sam. Otis. Reverend Al. Chadwick. No, not that Chadwick. Although this Chadwick also burned awesome and bright for a brief time, enlightening the world as well. Dallas’ own Chadwick Murray, with a soulful voice that will funk you up.

Dallas is underestimated. This city has so much going on, that the greatest of bands may come and go without us even knowing it. To have missed Bastards of Soul (BOS) as a live performing act hurts my own soul. I envy the lucky ones who were in those rooms. I’m actually listening to BOS now. Gotta love Amazon Music Unlimited. Worth every penny. Although I wish the artists would get a bigger cut.

A new documentary from Paul Levatino, following the short life of the band, eponymously titled Bastards of Soul, just screened at the Dallas International Film Festival, with many of the creative team and band in attendance. It was a joyful and emotional evening for everyone enthusiastically present.

BOS formed in Dallas in the early part of 2016. Chadwick had primarily been a bassist for years in many bands to that point, but never a vocalist, let alone a lead. The voice emerged as if by magic. An admitted loner in younger years, he would descend into practicing the bass (A highly underestimated instrument. Lest we forget, Paul McCartney is a bassist) or to watching his life-long love Star Trek, a love only to be surpassed by his love for wife Hannah, the true heart of this film, with the details of their relationship better told in her words and onscreen than described here.

Levatino personally does talking head interviews rather than narration, which results in more than a couple people in tears. “Thanks, Paul.” But these are tears of sadness AND joy. That voice. I’m still listening to that voice as I write.
The main tight well-oiled machine lineup was Chris Holt (Guitar), Danny Balis (Bass), Chad Stockslager (Keys), Matt Trimble (Traps), Keite Young (Backing Vocals). And last but certainly not least, Chadwick on lead vocals. And he sure could sing. That’s a once in a lifetime voice, like Karen Carpenter, who was also another candle in the wind. It’s as if the talent is almost too much for the world to handle. But when it was here, it was glorious.

The bulk of the film occurs at a recording studio in Argyle, Texas as the guys re-group during lockdown to knock out a few new tracks. The sound may be 60s Stax through and through (very much by design), but these guys wrote original material. Songs you hear for the first time, but feel like they were always with you.

To be moved by a song on a screen to cheers from a kindred spirit crowd there for a single purpose is a sign of true humanity. Not a dry eye in the house, especially among those who knew him. The filmmakers of documentaries cannot plan the trajectory. The organic nature of the process is a big part of why it fascinates me.

The recreated concert sequences (Filmed at the historic Forest Theater) reminded me of a few sequences Martin Scorsese did for The Last Waltz (1978) a documentary film about the final concert of The Band. Here, Levatino employs a stunning use of split screen, sharp focus, color and framing. The artistic choice to include near entire takes of songs, both in the fly on the wall studio recording footage and the concert sequences resulted in the audience clapping and cheering several times. It’s rare, but it’s the second time I’ve been in the same theater when that happened. Last time was a recent Oak Cliff Film Festival opening night of the similarly titled Summer of Soul (2021). Small world!

I bet I wasn’t the only person who was fortunate to be in the room for both. Edgy and challenging film festival programming is another thing Dallas has going strong. And programming films with true local DFW-area connections. Cheering for Dallas-made, original, 60s homage soul music in the same theater where Lee Harvey Oswald was finally captured on 11/22/63 is incredibly surreal. And incredibly awesome.
BOS survived Covid lockdown, and were able to record three albums with Chadwick over the years, but as plans were possibly coming together for bigger a post-Covid run, Chadwick began to have mysterious breathing issues. Not Covid though. In an eerie parallel, this is exactly how my dad passed just over ten years ago, so that immediately brought me closer to the subject matter than expected. Chadwick’s passing is telegraphed on the poster art, so it’s not really a spoiler. Knowing it is coming substantially increases the power of the earlier events.

Jeff Liles’ Kessler in Oak Cliff is heavily featured as a key location in the career of BOS. Such exciting things going on with his venues, having also recently acquired the legendary Longhorn Ballroom, famed for the infamous Sex Pistols / Merle Haggard signage, recreated recently for a Hulu series.

As a Dallas-based entertainment attorney with an independent music focus, I love that BOS existed. It means the scene here, often criticized in recent years, is bigger and better than people know. And the BOS legacy is forever. There will never be another Chadwick Murray, but we were fortunate to exist when he existed. Just wish I had been there in person. Many of you were. And this film is a testament to all of it. Chadwick’s legacy lives on, in family and song.

15th Dallas International Film Festival