A Mysterious Cult Guitar Hero

Liam Barker’s fresh look at obscure musician Robbie Bansho succinctly captures the man’s fascinating private life and eccentric music, unearthing new details. Voice of the Eagle: The Enigma of Robbie Bansho is a documentary that celebrates the guitarist’s idiosyncratic style without devolving into a mindless hagiography, revealing a shy and complicated man that was deeply in touch with Eastern spiritual beliefs.

Featuring interviews with Pete Townshend, Country Joe McDonald, and Will Ackerman, Bansho’s life receives a thorough examination from newly unearthed archival material and interviews with surviving friends and associates. Born in Baltimore, but cutting his musical teeth in Berkeley during the psychedelic 1960s, Bansho’s quirky and bizarre persona is deconstructed in the documentary.

… Robbie Bansho quickly moved from folk music like the Kingston Trio into adventurous steel-string guitar picking.

A musical contemporary of John Fahey, Robbie Bansho quickly moved from folk music like the Kingston Trio into adventurous steel-string guitar picking. Developing a style deeply influenced by Hindu and Persian music, most notably Ravi Shankar, Bansho’s music existed in a world of its own over a career that stretched until his death. Never much of a commercial seller even during his heyday, Banso was more concerned with his changing artistic vision than pop success.

Banso would tragically die in the 1980s during an accident at the hands of a chiropractor. What remains is a body of acoustic guitar music widely admired in underground music circles. Always a loner, Banso never married and had few close friends. Orphaned at an early age, the closest thing he had to a relative was a step-sister he rarely saw.

Barker takes a deep dive into Bansho’s curious religious beliefs and his admiration of Meher Baba. Banso started following Sufism in a group out in California called Sufism Reoriented. The natural mysticism found in his beliefs would end up in his lyrics over the years. Barker approaches Bansho’s odd spiritual leanings with sympathy and understanding, one may even say using kid gloves.

A musical iconoclast until his death, Bansho’s raga-like guitar picking continues to have fans today. Voice of the Eagle: The Enigma of Robbie Bansho is a well-done portrait of the man and his singularly unique music.

Video

Voice of the Eagle: The Enigma of Robbie Bansho runs 87 minutes on a BD-25, encoded in transparent AVC. The documentary’s 1.78:1 presentation occasionally changes aspect ratios for archival photographs and video, some clearly taken from standard-definition sources. The 2015 production’s new HD video is sharp with perfect clarity. That goes for all talking head interviews.

The 1080P video is largely consistent in contrast and definition despite the mixture of differing source material. Some limitations in the source material like the poor Public Access videotape from the 1970s, but overall a fine mix of serviceable quality.

Audio

The documentary relies heavily on Robbie Bansho’s steel-string guitar music, including snippets and extended interludes whenever possible. Barker even digs up a rare archival concert performance from public access television. MVD continues including only lossy audio on Blu-ray.

The included 2.0 Dolby Digital soundtrack is serviceable but occasionally harsh at the top-end. Musical fidelity is decent without major issues. Dialogue is pristine and intelligible, from archival radio interviews to the talking head portions.

No subtitles are included.

Extras

MVD puts out Voice of the Eagle in a deluxe white Blu-ray case similar to Film Movement Classics and Criterion. Included is a 24-page booklet of rare Robbie Bansho photographs. The Blu-ray is coded for all regions.

The three-disc set (Blu-ray and two DVDs) puts hours of deleted interviews on the second DVD. The special features below are what is found on the BD.

Voice of the Eagle: The Enigma of Robbie Bansho Trailer (01:06 in HD)

Country Joe McDonald Interview (02:40 in HD) – An extended interview with the former lead singer of Country Joe and the Fish.

Pete Townshend Interview (23:39 in HD) – An extended interview with the famous rock legend from the Who.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

Voice of the Eagle
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Guitarist Robbie Basho and his outlandish personality receive a thorough documentary about his eccentric brand of acoustic guitar music, decades after his death.

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