The Muscle Shoals Music Guide, Part 4

Twangville has teamed up with Muscle Shoals musician Jimbo Hart, known to many for his work with Jason Isbell and others, to highlight the many great artists that call Muscle Shoals home.
The Fiddleworms
Twangville Says: Just to let the reader know, I have heard about Muscle Shoals all of my life. I was born and raised in the Northeast Alabama city of Gadsden, and have lived most of life in and around Birmingham and now Tuscaloosa. Despite my proximity, I have spent very little time in the Shoals area. I guess I need to head up there and have something a little stronger than Coke with Jimbo. It is an interesting time in Muscle Shoals a new breed of musicians is evolving, while the Old School is still going strong. The Fiddleworms personify the classic Southern sound that has been coming from the Shoals since its early days. Anyone raised on one of the many rivers in Alabama, as I was, knows what a fiddleworm is. They are big worms that come from deep in the soil. In fact, one good fiddleworm can catch more than one big fish. That pretty much describes the Fiddleworms music. Their music is organic and authentic. There is certainly a Jam Band element in their music. (Not surprising since David McKay's wife toured with the Dead for 8 years.) However, they also employ Southern Rock, Bluegrass and Jazz to varying degrees. They are exceptional musicians and there most recent album, See the Light, is not to be missed. (Chip Frazier) Jimbo Says: These guys have been a mainstay in the Muscle Shoals music roster since the early 1990's. In fact, I used to sneak out at night at the the ripe old age of 12 and go watch them at the bar behind my house (indeed, the world was different, then). Sitting in a corner, usually smoking cigarettes and drinking Cokes, I was taught how to play bass in a band by The Fiddleworms. Indeed, they are still teaching us. Every album they've made over the years have somehow topped the one before it and their latest 'See The Light' is no different. Dig!
Belle Adaire
Twangville Says: Belle Adair represents the new breed of bands emerging from the Shoals. Their new album, "The Brave and the Blue" is an ambitious fusion of sounds. They use folk instrumentation to produce an ethereal Indie-Rock atmosphere, with beautiful hypnotic melodies. When listening to the album, you will be absorbed from beginning to end. (Chip Frazier) Jimbo Says: Belle Adair could be considered The Pollies' alter-ego, in that both bands share members Chris James on the bass, Reed Watson on drums and Daniel Stoddard on steel and guitars and stuff. Backing principal songwriter Matt Green is also Ben Tanner on keys and things. Their new record 'The Brave And The Blue' is a journey into sonic wizardry and melancholy that begs to be dug deeply into, so dig away, here.
Click here for more Muscle Shoals music coverage. Photo credits: Ashton Lance (Belle Adaire)

Amy Black at FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals

FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals is where it all began. It is also where the music continues today as artists regularly make the pilgrimage to find inspiration within the studio’s walls. Singer-songwriter Amy Black recently spent a day at FAME, recording several songs for a forthcoming ep release. She was kind enough to share the experience with us.
Amy Black
Back to My Roots: Recording at FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals
By Amy Black
My parents are from the area of Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Both of their parents lived there my whole life, so I spent a lot of time and made many memories there. One memory is passing a brownish colored building that had the name “Fame” on it. I could read on the sign that it was a recording studio, and often wondered who recorded there. That was before Wikipedia, so there was no looking it up back then. Over the last decade though, I’ve learned what happened between those walls, and in the past year, got the whole story through the excellent documentary, Muscle Shoals. FAME has a rich history. Founded by Rick Hall, Billy Sherrill and Tom Stafford in the late 1950s, it boasts a long list of music royalty who recorded there, including Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding and Aretha Franklin, just to name a few. For a period of time in the late 60's and 70's, Muscle Shoals was the “go to” place if you wanted to make a soul record. They had the most in-demand rhythm section around – a bunch of young white guys who had a whole lot of soul. Fame StudiosWhile I’d passed FAME my whole life, I’d never ventured inside. When I recorded there this summer, it was the first time seeing the place. The studio is a humble looking place inside and out. It’s very unassuming. It sits on the corner of a busy intersection in Muscle Shoals, alongside a CVS, a Walgreens and a number of fast food restaurants. The inside of the studio, like the outside, is retro – real retro. It’s like a time capsule that has locked in all the memories of its glory days. My guess is that people who recorded there 40 years ago would say that it hasn’t changed. That’s a huge part of its charm. You feel like you are in a living breathing museum. When you walk through the foyer and into the narrow area that separates the two recording rooms, the walls are covered with dozens, if not hundreds of framed photos of familiar faces who each made music here at some point in history. Sitting on the couches during a break, I felt like I was surrounded by the presence of these legendary artists. Fame StudiosThe main studio itself is a warm and inviting place. The vibe is cool. The lights are low. It’s a large room with several connected sound booths. The engineer’s control room rises up in front of you as if it is on top of a small hill and you are at the foot. The keyed instruments sit side-by-side in a line against the right wall, ready for action. From my booth I can see it all, the players, the engineer – it’s almost like watching a movie. When recording in the studio, I couldn’t help but feel that I was on hallowed ground. To think that one of my heroes, Aretha Franklin, recorded in this same booth was inspirational. I brought some players with me from Nashville who are each very accomplished. This was their first time playing at FAME, though, and it was clear that it was a special experience for them too. We all felt it, collectively. Amy BlackOne person who played with us that day is not at all new to FAME. In fact, it probably feels like a second home to him because he’s spent so much time there. Spooner Oldham started with FAME when he was in his late teens. If you’ve heard any of Aretha’s big hits, you’ve heard Spooner. Listen to Aretha’s "I Never Loved a Man" and Percy Sledge's "When a Man Loves a Woman" to hear some of his sweet sounds from almost 40 years ago. Well, I can attest that he is still a sweet player and a sweet person as well. It was an absolute honor to spend the day with Spooner. He was just one of the guys. You would never know that this man is a member of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and that he’s toured with the likes of Bob Dylan. He’s not going to be the one to tell you. He’s quiet, humble and kind. He does have a twinkle in his eye. And he said that he’s as busy now at 70 than he ever was, in fact he’s touring with Pegi Young right now. Spooner played the same Worley on my project that he played with Aretha. Now that is beyond cool. I came to Muscle Shoals to record because I wanted to make a connection between my personal history and the incredible musical history of this place. Now that I have a career in music all these years later and can really appreciate what happened in this building, I wanted to be a part of it. I did this session to honor my roots – both familial and musical. Amy BlackI recorded my upcoming studio album in Nashville a few months before this session in Muscle Shoals and decided that instead of re-recording any of my originals, I would instead select some songs previously recorded in Muscle Shoals and do my own versions of them. These recordings would make up an EP that would initially only be released to my fans during my “fundraising” for the upcoming album and would later have a wide release. After much research and testing what would be best for my voice, I landed on these four songs: "You Better Move On" by Arthur Alexander (recorded by the Rolling Stones and The Beatles), "You Left the Water Running" by Rick Hall and Dan Penn (recorded by Wilson Pickett and Otis Redding), "Starting All Over Again" by Mel and Tim and a much more recent song, "Tighten Up" by the Black Keys. The session was amazing. The songs turned out great. I even got some high compliments from Spooner, which I treasure. It was a perfect day that I’ll never forget. It was exactly what I hoped it would be.
Amy Black is a touring singer/songwriter based in Boston. She will release her second album of original music, “This Is Home” in February 2014. Her EP “Amy Black: The Muscle Shoals Session” will be available for purchase through her Pledge campaign in November 2013. Visit for more information. Click here for more Twangville coverage of Muscle Shoals.
Amy Black photos courtesy of Ryan Black and Abraham Rowe. Fame Studios exterior courtesy Wikipedia and studio image courtesy FAME Studios.

Monday Morning Video: Muscle Shoals, the Movie

Many would say that the “Muscle Shoals sound” began with the founding of FAME Studios. From humble beginnings above a drug store, the studio became an institution that spawned countless legendary recordings. A mind-blowing array of artists made the pilgrimage to Muscle Shoals to record at FAME and nearby Muscle Shoals Sounds. In the early days it was soul and R&B artists like Aretha Franklin, Percy Sledge and Wilson Pickett who made the area a hotbed for R&B; in the 1970's bands like the Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd led a Southern rock revolution from there. In between, artists ranging from the Rolling Stones to Paul Simon and Bob Seger to Jimmy Cliff have recorded some of their biggest hits in the storied studios of Muscle Shoals. An outstanding new documentary chronicles the history in impressive fashion. It captures both the characters and character of the Shoals sound. Rick Hall, the legendary FAME founder and various members of the Swampers -- the impressive musicians who backed many visiting artists and left FAME to found Muscle Shoals Sounds -- appear to tell the story in their own words. Artists like Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Gregg Allman and Bono -- to name just a few -- share their experiences. Here's a preview of the Muscle Shoals documentary to whet your appetite. Seek it out to learn the history of this wonderful musical institution and to celebrate its glory.
Click here for more Muscle Shoals music coverage.

The Muscle Shoals Music Guide, Part 3

Twangville has teamed up with Muscle Shoals musician Jimbo Hart, known to many for his work with Jason Isbell and others, to highlight the many great artists that call Muscle Shoals home.
Pine Hill Haints
Twangville Says: Accordion laden drinking tunes, Johnny Cash covers, rockabilly/hillbilly…the Pine Hill Haints seem to do a little bit of it all in their mash up of the Pogues meet Steve Earle’s bluegrass Dukes. Their latest release on Spotify is 2011’s The Evening Star, and while it is a more subdued affair than the video below, it still showcases a fine, well oiled, band. (Todd Mathis) Jimbo Says: Undoubtedly, the first and most important band in North Alabama to pull together all of our area's historical musical values, with style, no less, is The Pine Hill Haints. They don't play out extremely often (around here, anyway) but when they do, folks take notice. To merely say that they've managed to pull together aspects of Appalachian Bluegrass, Rockabilly, Folk and a bit of Punk Rock would be an understatement. Also, to say that their sense of style has not been a huge influence, on everyone, would be a complete farce. They can only be described as The Pine Hill Haints.
The Bear
Twangville Says: The first thing that you'll notice about The Bear is singer Louisa Murray's voice. It has siren-like qualities, sometimes haunting and other times alluring. Set against the varied instrumentation of her fellow musicians, the result is an enchanting pop soundscape. Many of the songs on Overseas Then Under, the band’s sophomore release, explore the range of emotions that accompany romantic relationships. The group moves effortlessly from the gentle resentment of “The Track” to the sense of longing that permeats “Thinking of You.” “Darlin’ Boy” is a particular favorite, that veers from desire to ire. Lush choral arrangements accompany Murray as she proclaims, “darlin’ boy you could be my only.” The truth emerges, however, when she declares, “the only one for me but for you I’m just another.” The band gets much more musically adventurous towards the end of the release. "Pockets" has a wonderful cinematic quality, punctuated by a typewriter and a regal trumpet. It could very easily be the soundtrack to a silent film. "Mississippi, Mexico" takes things a step further. The song starts out as a percussive folk song but then transforms itself into something akin to a Eastern European waltz. The closing track is called "Ben Was Right." Given that there are two gentlemen named Ben in the band, one isn't sure to whom the song refers. Or, I suppose, whether the other Ben was wrong. Either way, this is a special release that just sounds, well, right. (Mayer Danzig)
Click here for more Muscle Shoals music coverage.

The Muscle Shoals Music Guide, Part 2

Twangville has teamed up with Muscle Shoals musician Jimbo Hart, known to many for his work with Jason Isbell and others, to highlight the many great artists that call Muscle Shoals home.
The Pollies
Twangville Says: With fuzzed out guitars, a touch of twang, and an unmistakable R&B swing, The Pollies sound like this generation’s great American rock and roll bands, My Morning Jacket, the Drive-By Truckers, and Wilco. A collective of like-mind Muscle Shoals musicians and personalities, the band sounds both familiar and refreshingly new. The easiest comparison is My Morning Jacket, who also melded the worlds of indie rock and Americana with little regard for convention. However, that comparison fails to capture the foundation of the band’s sound, which is grounded in the Muscle Shoals soul of their hometown. This is a band that pays more than lip service to defying genre classification, but in a way that’s organic, real, and rock ‘n roll. The songs on their debut album Where The Lies Begin veer from the more ethereal to the plain spoken. The record opens with humming choir and noisy guitars worthy of a Bon Iver number, before breaking into a re-imagining of late 90’s-era Wilco in “Good For Nothing.” That song falls into the lap of “Something New,” which is infectiously bouncy, but manages to retain a rough hewn rock veneer.”Song for Carter” is folk-rocky character driven vignette. The rousingly soulful “The Well” recalls fellow Muscle Shoals compatriots the Alabama Shakes, whereas “Ashes of Burned Out Stars” sounds like Love Is Hell-era, as played by Cardinals-era, Ryan Adams. All together it adds up to one of the best debut albums I’ve heard in quite a while. For one of those “buzz” bands, the Pollies surprise by actually having the sound- and songwriting- to back it up. (Eli Petersen) RIYL: fireflies at dusk, Richard Manual, berliner weisse Jimbo Says: Greenhill, Alabama is no stranger to great musicians. Such is still the case with The Pollies. Pooling membership from all around the Shoals area, they have forged a sound that has leant itself to a shifting paradigm towards what the true nature of the new Muscle Shoals sound is becoming. Their songs tell haunting, familiar stories through styles that collide and dance, at once. Several members of The Pollies have also leant their talents to other bands emerging from our pond such as Belle Adair and The Bear. The Pollies' latest outing Where The Lies Begin and more, can be found here.
St. Paul and the Broken Bones
Twangville Says: Like a southern preacher at a tent revival in the 20's Paul Janeway, lead singer for St. Paul and the Broken Bones, will have you raising your arms, swaying to and fro and yelling, "Hallelujah!" Instead of the gospel, though, St. Paul is carrying the message of soul music. Not what gets classified as soul these days, but the kind of soul that Wilson Pickett and Sam Cooke invented 50 years ago. With a full horn section, plus guitars and drums, the Broken Bones can cover anything Paul can sing, which is a wide range of material from Muscle Shoals to Memphis to Chicago and Detroit. Their first album is due out later this year. If you missed hearing the Alabama Shakes before they hit it big, here's your chance to make amends. (Shawn Underwood)
The Pyles
Twangville Says: Two voices. When a musical partnership works, it's hard to imagine music in a purer form. Cullen Stewart and Jessica Rothstein sound like they’ve been singing together on the front porch for decades. If I heard them playing, I’d stop and listen to their homespun tunes all day. One of the hallmarks of their sound is their ukulele. Stewart and Rothstein both play it. It adds to the toe-tapping goodness. “Take Me Home” sounds like a beautiful gospel tune. It sounds like it could have been unearthed on a trip by A.P. Carter into the Appalachians. The call and response formats serves the duo well as both voices blend harmonically but stand apart. (Jeff McMahon)
Click here for more Muscle Shoals music coverage. Photo credits: Doc Dailey (The Pollies); Say Bre Photography (St. Paul and the Broken Bones; Abraham Rowe (The Pyles)