Album Reviews

Amy Black

The Muscle Shoals Sessions

Artist:     Amy Black

Album:     The Muscle Shoals Sessions

Label:     Reuben Records

Release Date:     06/09/2015


What’s with all of these Muscle Shoals albums lately? Just this month alone we have a bluegrass band, a blues rock band, not to mention several others that have preceded them this year. Okay, artists are leveraging the time-honored traditions of FAME Recording, inspired perhaps by the relatively recent documentary or maybe just because it’s solid marketing. Amy Black, however, has a real connection to the place as her grandparents grew up in Muscle Shoals, her parents were born there, and she spent a fair amount of her childhood in the tiny town, unaware of its glorious history.

Black is actually a relatively new artist, having put her corporate marketing career behind her to showcase her southern, rather bluesy, warm voice and songwriting at the age of 40. This is her third full-length album, and according to her, marks a turning point where she’s really found her direction.

When she cut her 2014 record, This Is Home (Reuben Records), Boston–based Black wrote a song called “Alabama” to honor her late grandfather, for whom her label is named. While the bulk of the record was recorded in Nashville, she intended to cut “Alabama” in her grandfather’s hometown and booked a day at FAME Studios. She was pleased with the Nashville version, took a “rain check on FAME and later recorded a four song EP of mostly covers there in one day.”

Given that Black’s favorite singer is Mavis Staples and that she had great regional response in New England to her Muscle Shoals tour with Sarah Borges, Black conveyed to me last fall that she just had to do a whole album in Muscle Shoals with her guitarist, Will Kimbrough, who played prominently on This Is Home, and reunite with the legendary keyboardist Spooner Oldham and producer Lex Price, who helmed the EP. She also added original Muscle Shoals horn player Charles Rose for horn arrangements and the much in-demand McCrary Sisters for background vocals.

The result is a full-length version of The Muscle Shoals Sessions, a record that includes the four songs from the EP as well as eight more. She does Muscle Shoals proud, completely unintimidated in covering the Sam Cooke classic “Bring It on Home To Me,” the gospel, McCrary Sisters- backed “You Gotta Move,” and perhaps the most riveting cover, Mel & Tim’s 1972 hit, “Starting All Over Again.” Black also nods to Bob Dylan’s “Gotta Serve Somebody,” which he had also recorded at FAME.

Her three originals stand out even more, maybe just because we are unfamiliar with them but rest assured that Black is no pretender. Her own convincing soul groove is clearly in evidence on “Please Don’t Give Up on Me,” “Woman on Fire” and the alluring “Get to Me.” Black is a tireless tourer. She has recruited a six-piece Muscle Shoals Revue to tour behind the record. Catch her live this summer if you can for a full dose of soul music.

—Jim Hynes

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