MUSCLE SHOALS, ALABAMA . . . Since the 1960s, the city has been known for music – developing the "Muscle Shoals Sound", as local recording studios (including FAME Studios in the late 1950s and Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in 1969) produced hit records that shaped the history of popular music. This tribute to THOSE songs and THAT history reigns supreme with some of the most popular and influential artists participating in music history today. From Chris Stapleton, Willie Nelson, Lee Ann Womack and Jamey Johnson, to Demi Lovato, Steven Tyler, Keb’ Mo, Grace Potter and Aloe Blacc, an absolute cavalcade of stars lend their own personal embellishment to these classic songs.
The music that flowed out of Muscle Shoals studios is the fount of Americana music. The dynamic group of studio musicians and writers that layered the singular sound emanating from FAME gained their own measure of fame, of course, in Lynryd Skynyrd s celebration of down-home music, Sweet Home Alabama: Muscle Shoals Has Got the Swampers. The legendary Rick Hall, who died earlier this year, had a vision and an ear for producing now-memorable sounds that cut across generations and at least momentarily though that s a far more complicated issue cut across racial barriers. The list of singers who cut songs in Muscle Shoals includes Arthur Alexander, Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin, Candi Staton, Clarence Carter, Duane Allman, the Rolling Stones, and the Osmond Brothers. The sound that issues from this tiny Alabama postage-stamp town blends the earthiness of the blues and the exalted vocal strains of gospel with the funky, swampy tones of bright guitars, the wail of the B-3, and the punchy, soaring and swelling, almost vocal, choruses of horns. Rick Hall s son, Rodney, honors his father s memory by releasing Muscle Shoals...Small Town, Big Sound, an album that gathers contemporary musicians cutting a range of songs associated with the Shoals and which have influenced these musicians. The album succeeds only modestly, for only a few of the tracks resonate with the soulful power and moments of musical transcendence that possess the originals. Some of the matches of song to artist ostensibly the artist chose the song she or he wanted to sing, but the reasons for these pairings are unclear in the press materials simply fail because the artist lacks the range or power. The most glaring mismatch is Brent Smith of Shinedown attempting to sing Wilson Pickett s Mustang Sally ; Smith has neither the range nor the soul to pull off the effort, and the song falls flat; since Pickett was one of the early icons of the studio, this song deserves better. Chord Overstreet s version of Bob Seger s We ve Got Tonight is a similar mismatch, and Aloe Blacc s version of I ll Take You There is nice enough, but unremarkable and lacks the funky defiance of The Staple s Singers version. Steven Tyler turns in a mediocre version of the Stones Brown Sugar ; it lacks here the straight-ahead blues rock funk with which Stones delivered it. Some of the choices are just headscratchers. Alison Krauss sings with the most ethereally beautiful voice in bluegrass and country music, but she can t reach the pain of Gregg Allman s Come and Go Blues, and why is Alan Jackson singing Wild Horses ? Smartly, the producers preserve an almost note-for-note musical version of the song, but it comes across not as a painfully devastating moment in a singe s life but as an almost sweet country love song. The best songs on the collection preserve the energy of the originals and the artists capture their power. The album opens with Keb Mo s get-down-to-it version of Clarence Carter s The Road of Love. He and master guitarist Kelvin Holly who s one of the top ten guitarist playing today capture the fire, the grit, the funk of Carter s and Duane Allman s original; Holly s slide guitar dances along Allman s licks with beauty. Eli Paperboy Reed gives such life to Jimmy Hughes tune Steal Away that it dominates the collection. Reed knows how to get in the song, find every phrase and turn it inside out, and elevate the song so that it moves us beyond our ordinary lives. He captures the soulfulness of the original. Mike Farris, joined here by the Blind Boys of Alabama, turns in the other spectacular performance on the album with their version of Respect Yourself. Farris lives in this song so that his version breathes the life of the song out in his soul shouts and fiery inte --No Depression
Some of the biggest legends and contemporary artists from across all genres of music have joined together to pay tribute to the enduring legacy of Muscle Shoals on a new album titled Muscle Shoals ... Small Town, Big Sound. Steven Tyler, Chris Stapleton, Willie Nelson, Vince Gill and more are among the musicians who''ve cut new recordings of some of the most famous songs to come out of Muscle Shoals in new performances. They''ve breathed new life into classic songs from the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Etta James and more that were originally cut in Muscle Shoals, Ala., in the ''50s, ''60s and ''70s, reimagining them in new performances that saw most of them travel to FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals to record with local musicians. One of the highlights of the project is Tyler''s rendition of the Stones'' "Brown Sugar," which features Extreme guitarist Nuno Bettencourt shredding on electric guitar. Bettencourt found the experience magical. "You don''t get many chances in life, or in your career, to travel back in time like we just did in Muscle Shoals," he reflects. "Most historic places you visit, you can physically touch it. But while recording ''Brown Sugar'' in Muscle Shoals, we were the ones being touched. You could feel the spirit, the ghosts, but more importantly, emotion... deep down." That track is also special to Marie Lewey, one of the Shoals Sisters, who lend their soulful backing vocals to eight of the tracks. "Steven Tyler, Nuno Bettencourt and his team were not what I would have expected," she admits. "They were so warm, fun and all in. They must have had their doubts about how soulful three pasty white chicks could be, but I will never forget their reaction in the control room when we rared back and sang the first chorus. Great memories." Nelson, Stapleton, Jamey Johnson and Lee Ann Womack all teamed for Dylan''s "Gotta Serve Somebody," another standout track on an album full of standout tracks. Alan Jackson re-interpreted another Stones song, "Wild Horses," while artists as diverse as Kid Rock, Michael McDonald, Grace Potter, Alison Krauss, Jason Isbell and John Paul White also lent their talents to the project. Brent Smith has seen his share of success as the lead singer in Shinedown, but his rendition of "Mustang Sally" gave him the opportunity to experience a slice of music history. "If you stop for a moment and think about the most influential songs of all time, I guarantee you a vast majority of those songs were recorded in Muscle Shoals," he states. "Whether it be rhythm and blues, soul or rock and roll. FAME Studios and Muscle Shoals was, and is, all about the artist, the songs, and the attitude." Producer and publisher Rodney Hall co-owns FAME Studios, and he served as executive producer on Muscle Shoals...Small Town, Big Sound. He also curated the project along with Grammy, ACM and CMA Award-winning producer Keith Stegall. Hall''s late father, Rick Hall, is widely known as the Father of the Muscle Shoals Sound, and the new album includes some of his final productions. Rick Hall died in January after a battle with cancer, but his son says his legacy lives on in the rich musical heritage he helped create. The sound is one-of-a-kind, Rodney Hall reflects. When younger artists hear all of the music that came out of here over the past five decades, they want to check it out. This album is special because it brings together artists that have been inspired by the magic of the Muscle Shoals Sound. Muscle Shoals ... Small Town, Big Sound is dedicated to Rick Hall s memory. A portion of the proceeds from the album will go to benefit the Grammy Foundation, the Muscle Shoals Music Association and the Muscle Shoals Music Foundation. --Taste of Country