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Steven Tyler, who turned 70 March 26, is the subject of a new documentary that premiered at the Nashville Film Festival May 10.
Steven Tyler: Out on a Limb is a tribute to a man that director Casey Tebo describes as “like this awesome super famous crazy uncle.” It’s also a love song to Nashville, the musical mecca where Tyler relocated to launch a solo career as a country artist. “Thank you, God, for this town, for the energy that lives in this town,” Tyler says in the film.
One might wonder what is left to say about this ubiquitous celeb, the front man of Aerosmith, one of America’s most successful rock bands. In the 95-minute documentary, a bunch of musicians who’ve known Tyler through the decades say nice things about his “passion for life,” his refusal to be pigeonholed and his kindnesses.
But fans will be more interested in what Tyler himself has to say at this point in his life: Take risks. Give appreciations. Stay passionate.
“People would rather be certain they’re miserable than take a risk and be happy,” he observes.
The film shows an artist still hard at work, writing songs and performing with the Loving Mary Band, an immensely talented group that features women on drums, bass, fiddle, harmonica and rich backing vocals. Most of the concert footage from a performance at Nashville’s historic Ryman Auditorium features songs from Tyler’s 2016 country debut, We’re All Somebody From Somewhere.
Not as much genre bending as you might think, Tyler points out. There are country aspects to the Aerosmith songbook, most evident when the new band covers “What It Takes.” In performance, the band lets everyone know who’s in charge by starting their set with Aerosmith’s “Sweet Emotion.”
Tyler can’t turn around without singing “Dream On,” a song about getting old he wrote when he was barely drinking age. Rearranged with a fiddle, where a guitar used to be, and mandolin, the strength of the song is not only intact but enhanced. Rearranged around different instruments, backed by a choir of female voices, the Aerosmith classic moves from the arena to church.
This new collaboration, enriched by the total-immersion musical vibe that is Nashville, allows Tyler to continue his musical journey at a time, as one interview observes, he could be sitting on an island somewhere.
But Tyler pushes on, taking risks. Anyone could have tanked, but he pulled it off: American Idol judge, commercials, guest spots on TV shows playing himself, his "Demon of Screamin’ " renditions of the national anthem.
“Hope for a train wreck,” he advises. “That’s exciting. No great story ever started with eating a salad. You gots to get in trouble.”
Aerosmith’s 40-year history is like a long fractious marriage. Tyler talks about moving beyond blame. He gives thanks for bandmate Joe Perry. He pays homage to his influences, including Janis Joplin (“All this s--t I wear, I stole from her”), with versions of "Mercedes Benz" and "Piece of My Heart" that crackle with interplay. The Loving Mary Band is excellent across the board, but the versatile Suzie McNeil (guitar, accordion, piano, harmonica, vocals) deserves a special mention. Tyler is generous with the spotlight, limiting himself to a shaker and a brief turn on a djembe drum.
Tyler hasn’t changed the black nail polish. The scarves still drape the mic. He hasn’t cut his hair. He’s who he’s always been, with glasses. Still pushing forward as an artist while mentoring the youngsters and empowering women in music. The result: “I feel like I’m doing something new again.”
Steven Tyler: Out on a Limb is available for streaming May 15.