Closing Out 2015: The Year of Muscle Shoals

Muscle Shoals, Alabama, was always an important part of my life. Whenever I went to visit my grandparents in the adjacent town, Sheffield, we always drove to Muscle Shoals (it was 10 minutes away) to hit the local fast food joints and to do some shopping at Rogers department store. Both Walmart and Kmart were in Muscle Shoals. That says it all. On all of those drives we would pass the historic FAME Studios.

I didn’t know that FAME was an important place in music history until years later. And honestly, if someone had told me when I was 12 about the folks who recorded there, I probably wouldn’t have been that impressed. I had yet to be introduced to the fine music of Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, etc. Little did I know that this studio and the music that was recorded there would become such an important part of my life all these years later.

I have a deep connection with Muscle Shoals because of the sweet memories I have of my grandparents that span 30 plus years. And now I have a new connection because of the music I’ve come to love.

2016 was truly the year of Muscle Shoals. I released a full-length album recorded at FAME with an amazing cast of players, including the legendary Spooner Oldham. The “Muscle Shoals Sessions” includes classic songs and some new ones I wrote just for this project. And then, this past summer, I took a Muscle Shoals Revue on the road, playing 50 shows across the country.

Touring extensively with a full band was a first for me. I held auditions for Berklee students in Boston to build the band. They would tour with me as a part of a paid internship that would give them great road and performance experience, playing excellent listening rooms in great cities across the U.S. While this project could have failed, it did not, and the fellas who toured with us were great guys and and players. We had a great summer together and several of them are touring with us again in 2016.

My husband Ryan, who learned to play the drums to support my music and to be a part of it, was our drummer for most of the summer and will return to the tour this year. I’m so proud of him and glad we can make music together.

My rock-n-rolling friend Sarah Borges joined us for a good number of the shows in 2015. It was a blast to have her along! She’s got a new album coming out this year and that will be her focus. Definitely check it out (it’s called Good and Dirty).

As I embark on 2016, it’s hard to believe that just over two years ago, I was working an office job four days a week and touring on the weekends. Two albums and two years of extensive touring later, that old life is solidly in the past. The path I’ve chosen isn’t easy and it doesn’t pay a third of the desk job, but I do love it and have no regrets!

I have Muscle Shoals to thank for an incredible 2015 and for what’s to come in 2016 and 2017. I’ll continue the Muscle Shoals tour this year, taking it back on the road this summer and then in early 2017, I plan to record my next album of originals (with the support of my fans), which will be greatly influenced and inspired by the soulful music I’ve been playing and singing for the past few years now.

“Place” will once again play an important role in my music. Who knows where the music will take me for my next album. Time will tell. But I’m sure glad and grateful it took me to Muscle Shoals for my current one.

XO
Amy

The Reviews Are in for “The Muscle Shoals Sessions”

Muscle Shoals Cover 240“A blend of sultry desire, ardent passion and mournful deliberation, and a sound that’s both tough and tender, mixing swagger with sway.” (RELIX)

“The album finds Black offering terrific versions of some of the vintage soul and R&B numbers recorded in Muscle Shoals.” (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER)

“[The album] showcases Black’s range as a skillful interpreter. She also included three of her originals, including the album’s centerpiece, “Woman on Fire,” a blazing call-to-arms that just happens to sum up her life these days.” (BOSTON GLOBE)

“To showcase her true potential as a bluesy, R&B heavy hitter, Amy Black had to go home. Thankfully, home for her is Muscle Shoals, Alabama, home to the mythic FAME Studios. Black’s soulful chops shine…” (ELMORE MAGAZINE)

“Black Is blessed with a deeply soulful voice that melds elements of Dusty Springfield, Mavis Staples and Alberta Hunter. On Penn and Oldham’s ‘Uptight, Good Man’ Black sounds like a female Percy Sledge with her gospel infused vocals – the traditional ‘You Gotta Move’ is a slab of old school Gospel/Blues replete with gutbucket vocals, harmonies and slide…You have a set that should propel Amy Black towards international stardom.” (BLUES IN BRITAIN)

“Black has some originals that are as interesting and as funky as the covers. ‘Please Don’t Give Up On Me’ sounds like it might have been penned by Swamper composer legend Dan Penn imbued by Black’s country soul vocals. ‘Get To Me’ is a country answer to Aretha’s ‘Do Right Man,’ with a spoken word chorus encouraging women to assert themselves and find a man who loves women for who and what what they are…a smooth blend of past and present that keeps the Swamper legacy alive and kicking’.” (NO DEPRESSION)

“The highlight just might be the majestic new take on the gospel classic ‘You Gotta Move.’ It sounds like the song goes all the way back to the beginning of time. It has the strength of those who are caught in the depth of human misery yet somehow look up and see a way to another life, a scorching take on a music which gives hope to the future. Amy Black knows the trip is worth everything she’s had to do to get there, and that the next and best stop is up around the bend. There are songs by legendary people like Sam Cooke, Don Covay, Dan Penn, Bob Dylan and Arthur Alexander to ensure the way is not lost, but Black’s originals stand right up to them. The king here is groove.” (BENTLEY’S BANDSTAND/THE MORTON REPORT)

“Amy Black has achieved acclaim as a fine singer/songwriter, mostly in the Americana/Country genres. But on ‘The Muscle Shoals Sessions’, Ms. Black stayed close to her north Alabama roots with a visit to the historically-significant FAME Recording Studios for this fine collection of soul classics and originals all given that iconic Muscle Shoals sound.” (BLUES BYTES)

“4 out of 4 Stars “There are great expectations when someone is attempting to capture the supernatural spirit of a highly regarded studio. Amy Black not only went back home for this record, but she went well prepared and with the talent to back herself up. ‘The Muscle Shoals Sessions’, exudes confidence and is a throwback to the days when records were made the old fashioned way, by hard work and good music.” (ALL ABOUT JAZZ)

“Amy Black delivers a consistently satisfying and soulful simmer on a set of nicely chosen covers and genre-savvy originals. And while the covers might draw the initial attention, particularly a classically Muscle Shoals-bedecked workup of the Sam Cooke classic ‘Bring It On Home’ or Dylan’s ‘Gotta Serve Somebody’, Ms. Black’s ‘Woman On Fire’ and ‘Get To Me’ are scorchers screaming for airplay.” (ROOTS MUSIC REPORT)

“Amy Black never fails to nail that rarefied musical sweet-spot where southern gospel, the blues and R&B meet and emerge as soul – imagine a vocal blend of Bonnie Raitt, Bobbie Gentry and Rosanne Cash and you’d be close…recorded at the legendary FAME studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, the result is a Spooner Oldham, Will Kimbrough and Shoals Horns-informed 12-song mix of Shoals-sourced classics…along with a trio or well-crafted, in-the-same-vein Black originals – the saucily percolating, occasionally simmering (a la Dusty Springfield) test testimonial ‘Get To Me’, a Black Keys-vibed ‘Woman On Fire’ and the horns-framed, tear-stained plea ‘Please Don’t Give Up On Me’.” (SHINDIG!)

“In the blue-eyed soul tradition, Black recalls Dusty Springfield, Bonnie Raitt and Joan Osborne, commanding a voice that conveys the rich emotional core of the material. She evokes strength and power on her best self-penned song here, ‘Woman On Fire’ and vulnerability and sadness on ‘Starting All Over Again.” (MANCHESTER UNION LEADER)

“While there’s always a parade of artists coming to the Shoals to seek inspiration, it is not often that an artist comes to pay tribute. [Black’s] decision to cover Shoals songs for the effort turns out to be a very wise one indeed.” (EXAMINER)

“‘You Left The Water Running’ is no less tear-stained than when Otis and Pickett each bled a version in the ’60s. And Black’s clean, clear voice keeps right on hooking hearts, switching over to her own spin on Arthur Alexander gentility, Etta James bluster, and even Sam Cooke-via-Lou Rawls funk…[her original] ‘Woman on Fire’…is pure fever–tone, tempo and desire.” (BALTIMORE BLUESRAG)

“3 1/2* Black’s own compositions held their own…The blistering ‘Woman On Fire’ featuring backing vocals by Ann and Regina McCrary, sounds like a lost track by LaBelle. The sultry ‘Get To Me’ calls to mind the romantic ballads of Dusty Springfield.” (ICON Magazine)

“Black states that the ‘Sessions’ speak to her soul and that they have changed her musical direction. Black’s performance on this recording will speak to your soul too.” (MAKING A SCENE)

“Amy Black ‘gets it’ and hopefully some of you will, too. ‘The Muscle Shoals Sessions’ deserves to be heard by all who appreciate the funkier, soulful side of roots music. Amy Black just keeps getting better.” (FERVOR COULEE)

“Among the South’s many musical attractions, none seems to exert quite the pull of Alabama’s Muscle Shoals, whose FAME studio in the ’60s drew artists like Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding and Etta James. Aretha Franklin’s career was revitalized and given a new direction there thanks to FAME’s studio-session musicians, among them organist Spooner Oldham, who pops up on several tracks here. Designed to ‘nail the spot where gospel, blues and R&B collide—and transform into soul,’ ‘The Muscle Shoals Sessions’ is an expanded version of an EP songstress Amy Black made a few years ago that now includes three originals. My favorite is her ‘Woman on Fire.’ Set to a beat that mirrors her pulsating blood pressure, it’s the story of a woman who’s fixated on a musician…Among the covers are terrific versions of Sam Cooke’s ‘Bring It on Home,’ Bob Dylan’s ‘Gotta Serve Somebody,’ ‘Uptight, Good Man’ by Dan Penn/Oldham and heartfelt treatment of the traditional spiritual, ‘You Got to Move.’ Great voice, great songs.”(CHICO NEWS & REVIEW)

“Amy Black knows how to reach down to the soul and change course to what feels right.” (THE IMPROPER BOSTONIAN)

“I can’t imagine anyone not getting caught up in this engaging collection, which mixes perfectly chosen covers with originals that evoke that classic sound without aping it.
‘Please Don’t Give Up On Me,’ perhaps the album’s standout track, Black takes full advantage of Charles Rose’s stellar horn arrangement, offering up a stunning soul gem that’s equal parts twangy torch song and slow-dance masterpiece.” (GATEHOUSE NEWSPAPERS wire service)

“First, a disclaimer: I’m a sucker for any singer who can do a great cover of a Sam Cooke song. Amy Black does exactly that, even though her uptempo R&B version of Cooke’s ‘Bring It On Home’ is more in line with the funk and spice of a Lou Rawls version. But the woman’s got some pipes. On this, her third solo album…she finds the nexus between gospel, blues, soul, and R&B. Mature, confident, bold, tough but also tender, Black — who has lived most of her life in Boston — has what it takes to be something special.” (THE TOLEDO BLADE)

“Black puts a modern twist on the work of the classic soul…of the 1960s through her Muscle Shoals performances of hits by artists such as Aretha Franklin, Etta James and the Rolling Stones…” (CLEVELAND SCENE)

“2015’s ‘Muscle Shoals Sessions’ shows Amy Black at her most versatile, channeling the music of Muscle Shoals, Alabama, circa 1969 (and the surrounding decades, of course).” (RIVERFRONT TIMES)

“Her recording ‘The Muscle Shoals Sessions’ finds her delving into the rootsy, southern, bluesy, old time aura that rises from north Alabam’, forging creative covers of music from Sam Cooke and Dan Penn among others, and adding her own songs to the mix. Black is well equipped to do this, with a voice that holds hints of Bonnie Raitt and Etta James yet remains uniquely her own, and with a creative imagination that recasts Bob Dylan’s ‘Gotta Serve Somebody’ and the Black Keys’ Tighten Up in ways that completely fit the roots infused story Black is telling. Those are standout tracks; so are Black’s own ‘Please Don’t Give Up On Me’ and Cooke’s Bring It On Home. Really, though, each of the dozen tracks is a keeper. (MUSIC ROAD)

“If you’re gonna cover Sam Cooke, you better do it right. If you’re going to cover­ Bob Dylan, you better do it right. If you’re — OK, you get it. Amy Black has picked out some le­gendary material for new LP ‘The Muscle Shoals Sessions’ (if you’re going to call your album ‘The Muscle Shoals Sessions,’ you better …) and Black brings every sweet song home. (THE BOSTON HERALD)

“‘The Muscle Shoals Sessions’ [is] a record as warm and funky as an Alabama summer night.” (SEVEN DAYS)

“Five Stars – ‘This is an extremely soulful new recording that will please Muscle Shoals fans old and new.’” (SUN HERALD)

“Killer blue eyed soul” (MIDWEST REVIEW)

Amy in the Boston Globe “On new album, Amy Black finds her calling in soul music”

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SOMERVILLE – Amy Black stood in this same kitchen with this same reporter nearly three years ago. But the circumstances were different, maybe even a little uncertain. Back then, Black was still working her day job in marketing, but had decided to chase a harebrained idea. It seemed crazy, but she couldn’t help but wonder:

At 40, could she pull off a lifelong dream to become a full-time singer and songwriter

Three years and as many albums later, she’s discovered she can — and has. Earlier this week Black self-released her third album, “The Muscle Shoals Sessions,” which took her to Alabama to record at FAME Recording Studios in the fabled Southern town referenced in the title.

Working with legendary Muscle Shoals musicians such as Spooner Oldham on organ, Black veered away from the country and folk leanings of her previous releases for a confident foray into blue-eyed soul music. She’s been hooked on soul lately, and for a recent interview at her Somerville home, she’s sporting a Mavis Staples T-shirt to prove it.

“When you’re in the middle of something, sometimes you don’t recognize progress,” Black says on her back porch, sipping coffee with her husband, Ryan, by her side. “But when I do take a step back and see how far I’ve come, it’s pretty amazing. It’s a short period of time for the amount of discovery and music I’ve produced.”

Read the full article here.

PopMatters Debuts Amy’s “Bring It On Home” Music Video

Screen Shot 2015-06-10 at 12.14.52 AM“Black tells PopMatters about her choice of “Bring It On Home to Me”: “When selecting songs for The Muscle Shoals Sessions album, I stumbled on a very funky interpretation of Sam Cooke’s ‘Bring It On Home to Me’, recorded by Lou Rawls in Muscle Shoals a decade after the original. This version is a blast to perform live. I brought that energy to the video, and resurrected a special character who came to life several Halloween’s ago. Her name is Grandma Gertie; she’s from Waterloo, Alabama, carries Moonpies in her pockets, loves her sweetheart, and has to ‘shake that thang’ when she hears a killer groove.”

Click here to watch the video and read the article.

Amy Black at Johnny D’s on June 12 and 13 – The Muscle Shoals Sessions Album Release and Farewell Boston Shows

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TICKETS AVAILABLE FOR BOTH NIGHTS
Friday night, June 12 >> Get Tickets
Saturday night, June 13  >> Get Tickets
Boston is a excellent place to start and grow a music career. Just ask Amy Black. In a relatively short time, she’s made her way from an unknown to a respected national touring singer and songwriter and on June 9, 2015 will release her third solo studio album, “The Muscle Shoals Sessions.” With her two nights at Johnny D’s on June 12 and June 13, Amy is both celebrating the new album and bidding Boston farewell as she makes the move to Nashville to start a next chapter.
Don’t miss the chance to join Amy, a killer band and special guests for a send off and to enjoy a live performance of “The Muscle Shoals Sessions” her new album of classic soul and inspired originals recorded at FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama (her family’s homeland) with legendary keys player, Spooner Oldham, Will Kimbrough and Regina and Ann McCrary of the McCrary Sisters.

American Songwriter Magazine calls Amy Black “a powerful, authentic, talented and above all soulful new entry in the rootsy singer/songwriter ranks;” while the Philadelphia Inquirer calls her ” an appealing cross between Bonnie Raitt and Mary Chapin Carpenter” with “songs that mix substance and accessibility.” With storytelling and southern tradition in her blood, Amy has shared stages with artists including Rodney Crowell, Emmylou Harris, Delbert McClinton, Chris Isaak, Suzy Boggus, Joey Ely, and the Courtyard Hounds. Her seamless blend of all things Americana, coupled with her soulful, smooth vocals and gift for bringing characters to life through song make her an artist that pleases lovers of blues, soul and country alike. More about Amy at www.amyblack.com

Opening act: Lewis West at 6:15 pm
Amy and Band from 7:00 – 9:00 pm

Amy Black Brings It On Home to Muscle Shoals for an Album of Time-Honored Classics and New Originals

Amy Black Muscle Shoals Sessions Cover Low ResSultry-Voiced Singer Returns to Site of Childhood Memories For The Muscle Shoals Sessions, Recorded At FAME Studios with Keyboardist Spooner Oldham, Guitarist Will Kimbrough, Ann and Regina McCrary, Brian Owings and Muscle Shoals Horns’, Charles Rose

For Amy Black, Muscle Shoals, Ala., has always held a special magic. Her parents were born there, and some of her fondest memories were made during frequent visits to both sets of grandparents. She spent so much time in “the Shoals,” it felt more like home than many of the places she’d actually lived. She even knew the local hangouts and town lore. Or thought she did.

Black remembers passing FAME Studios often; it was right on the main drag. But she had no awareness then of its musical history or impact, much less any inkling that she’d wind up making music her career. Little could she know that one day, a session with the legendary Muscle Shoals keyboardist Spooner Oldham would launch her on a journey of discovery that would give her an even deeper connection with a place she loves. After Oldham, one of Muscle Shoals’ original “Swampers” session players, was serendipitously invited to perform on her 2013 EP The Muscle Shoals Session, her interest in the sound and its story was awakened. She fell so in love — and felt so at home — with the sweet soul music he’d helped craft decades before, she expanded the EP into an entire album of Shoals classics and seamlessly blended originals. The Muscle Shoals Sessions, her third solo release, arrives June 9, 2015 on her own Reuben Records label.

Recorded at FAME with producer/bass player Lex Price and featuring contributions by Oldham, guitarist Will Kimbrough and singers Ann and Regina McCrary, and a horn section led by Muscle Shoals Horns ringleader Charles Rose, and the drumming of Paul Griffith and Bryan Owings, these songs showcase a vocalist who expertly balances confidence and vulnerability, toughness and tenderness. Sliding and slinking her way through each note, Black never fails to nail the spot where gospel, blues and R&B collide — and transform into soul. Inspired by Etta James, Mavis Staples, Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin and so many others who recorded some of modern music’s most iconic songs in this little Alabama hamlet, Black’s project pays homage to magic made at both FAME and Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, as well as to her beloved grandparents, and the cherished memories she carries of childhood sojourns.

amyblackFAME(s)-33“Making this music has changed me as an artist. It’s altered my musical course and I’m so glad,” says Black.” Black had originally booked time at FAME to record her song, “Alabama,” an ode to her late grandfather, for her 2014 release, This is Home. She wound up cutting the track at the historic Studio A in Nashville, so she banked the time for later — and came up with the idea of releasing a four-track EP of Muscle Shoals nuggets as a further reference to the concept of home.

Price got Oldham to join Black and Nashvillians Kimbrough (a Mobile, Ala., native) and drummer Paul Griffith in that session.

Back in Boston, where she’d lived since she was 15, Black did an EP release “pop-up” show with fellow singer-songwriter Sarah Borges that was so well received they did more throughout New England. Black even performed the show in Muscle Shoals with Oldham and original Swampers bassist David Hood.

“I got more and more comfortable and confident with the material and started enjoying myself immensely,” she recalls. “It seemed audiences were, too. Performing this music live woke something up in me. I put my guitar down and danced, and used my voice in new ways I didn’t know I could.”

Though Black says the EP was intended mainly as a teaser for This is Home, it organically grew into so much more; she couldn’t help diving deeper.

“When you come to something a little late, you’re trying to find your path,” she observes. “It’s a journey, and for me, the Muscle Shoals piece has been so key because it’s helped me tap into the music that speaks to my soul.”

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When she says “late,” Black’s referring to her revelation, at 35, that she wanted to start singing again after years of inactivity. Though she had sung in church since childhood, fell under Bonnie Raitt’s spell at 16 and joined bands in college, she went on to build a successful marketing career with no thought of pursuing music. Once the muse gripped her, however, it didn’t let go. Black released her first album of original material, One Time, in 2011.

When she recorded the EP, Black sought to avoid overly obvious selections. She chose Arthur Alexander’s “You Better Move On,” the Dan Penn/Rick Hall/Oscar Franks co-write “You Left the Water Running,” Phillip Mitchell’s “Starting All Over Again” and, to connect past and present, the Black Keys’ “Tighten Up” (from their Shoals-recorded Brothers album).

For the full-length Sessions, she added a funky Lou Rawls version of Sam Cooke’s “Bring It On Home”; the Oldham/Dan Penn composition “Uptight, Good Man”; Don Covay’s “Watch Dog” (originally recorded by Etta James); a smokin’ take on Bob Dylan’s “Gotta Serve Somebody”; and an even bluesier, sultrier rendition of the old spiritual, “You Gotta Move,” than the Stones’ Sticky Fingers version.

FullSizeRender 34Regarding her originals on the album, she says, “I wanted to challenge myself to contribute to the project by crafting some songs that embody the Muscle Shoals spirit.” One result is “Please Don’t Give Up on Me,” one of several tracks elegantly embellished by the McCrarys’ harmonies and the solid grooves of drummer Bryan Owings, whose FAME credits include recent work with Alicia Keys. The scorcher “Woman on Fire,” another original, draws on the Black Keys’ vibe. And the sensual, percolating “Get to Me” gives a nod to Dusty Springfield.

Now, she wants to educate others about Muscle Shoals, this special corner of the world that means so much to her. For Black, this is one more chapter of an amazing odyssey, one that started with her simple desire to “get out and sing,” then paved a circular road right back to the place that, musically and emotionally, feels like home.

Elmore Magazine Debuts Video for “You Gotta Move” featuring McCrary Sisters, Ann and Regina

Screen Shot 2015-05-06 at 2.05.15 PMElmore magazine wrote, “To showcase her true potential as a bluesy, R&B heavy hitter, Amy Black had to go home. Thankfully, home for her is Muscle Shoals, Alabama, home to the mythic FAME Studios. Delving into FAME’s history and the history of the small, Southern town, she discovered a treasure trove of musical inspiration, from Sam Cooke to Aretha Franklin. After recruiting some of the area’s greatest musicians, including guitarist Will Kimbrough, Muscle Shoals Horns ringleader Charles Rose and keyboardist Spooner Oldham, Black set out to record her third solo album, The Muscle Shoals Sessions, which will be released on June 9th and contain a blend of her original material and reimagined Shoals classics.”

To read the full article and watch the video, click here. 

Reflections on a Southern journey

 

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Wore my  Mavis shirt on for inspiration!

I’m taking a moment to reflect and recount the events of my amazing last two weeks down South. Bottom line feeling – gratitude. This is the start of my second year of full-time music making, touring the country and giving this career everything I have. I’m discovering that what is at the heart of this life as a lower to middle class musician is:

1) The people. The music lovers who are filled with passion and are generous of spirit. They open their homes to you, cook you a hot meal, bring their friends to meet you, make you feel like what you are doing is important and matters.

2)The experiences. Visiting new places across this grand nation, playing new venues, each with its own flavor, tasting the local cuisine, hanging around for a bit and learning about what a community has to offer. Seeing the love that locals have for their cities, their sports teams — but mostly for the music and how that love unites us all.

No matter what the future holds for me, I’m grateful for the opportunity to have the life I’ve got RIGHT NOW and for all the people along the way who are inspiring and encouraging me. We are in this together.

Making Sweet Music with Ann and Regina McCrary + HORNS!

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With Regina (front) and Ann (back) McCrary

First stop, Nashville, to record Regina and Ann McCrary and an awesome horn section for the new album. I’m grateful these folks wanted to be a part of my project and am blown away by their talent. It was magical hearing their parts added to the music we recorded in Muscle Shoals with the band last month. They took the album to another level!

A shout out for my producer: Lex Price is the best. He’s talented and dedicated. He’s a perfectionist (in the right way) and is making sure that this album sounds the best it can. I’m lucky to have him on my team!

 


Shows with Will Kimbrough in Nashville and Alabama

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With Will Kimbrough at the Bluebird Cafe

 

I got to play some great shows with Will Kimbrough, first at The Bluebird Cafe​ in Nashville with Blue Mother Tupelo. One of my biggest supporters, Debbie from Texas, drove all the way to Nashville to see the show. That made my night. Next, we went to Birmingham, AL hosted by a wonderful group of music lovers known as “Small Stages” who got 100 people out and had to turn 50 away. I’m grateful for the folks who let us stay in their lovely home that night, and for the awesome couple who made us breakfast the next morning before we headed out for lower Alabama.

We played the magical Frog Pond Sunday Social​ at Blue Moon Farm near Mobile, AL, where our hostess Cathe Steele wowed us with her concert series, beautiful grounds, a wonderful place to stay, a hot breakfast cooked over an open fire and a generous spirit.

A Little R&R on 30A in Florida

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I discovered 30A in January at a songwriting festival and couldn’t wait to get back!

My husband, Ryan, and I took off from there for Rosemary Beach, Florida, for a few days of rest in a condo that a wonderful guy who lives in Japan offered to us for no cost simply because I’m a musician. Wow.

Down in the Mississippi Delta

Next stop, Clarksdale, MS in the heart of the Delta. We stayed at The Shack Up Inn​ and met the owners, finding out that we have friends in common.

While eating breakfast in town, we were approached by a friendly gentleman because I had my guitar with me. He wanted to know who we were and he happened to be the owner of the cafe — and a lawyer. He told us there was a meeting going on across the street with a bunch of folks from Nashville and elsewhere about a new movement called the Americana Music Triangle​. He thought we’d be interested.

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Our shack at the Shack Up Inn in Clarksdale, MS

We walked in and met the mayor of Clarksdale, Bill Luckett (co-owner with Morgan Freeman of Ground Zero Blues Club) and we met Aubrey Preston of Nashville who is heading this whole thing up (he also orchestrated the rescue of Studio A in Nashville – where I recorded my last album). He was joined by the head of the Franklin Theatre in TN as well as tourism leaders from four different states and most of the local owners of music related venues and stores. The meeting was inspiring and now we are on board with the movement. I happened to be one of the only artist there and I happened to have just recorded in Muscle Shoals, AL. When I told the group I would be touring with a Muscle Shoals Revue show this summer — the mayor said, “See me after.” I’m now playing Ground Zero on July 15.

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Sweet fans from Rhode Island who happened to be in Clarksdale

After the meeting, we headed over to Cat Head Delta Blues & Folk Arts​ to talk with the owner and music/community organizer guru, Roger Stolle. While speaking to him, two ladies came in the store and all of a sudden they were right next to me telling him, “This is one of the best singers in New England.” I turned and saw two fans from Rhode Island who have been to multiple shows at The Narrows in Fall River, MA, and just happened to be in Clarksdale…with me…in February. Wow. They made my day.

Next, we moved on to Oxford, MS and stayed with the most excellent Allouises — John and Marie. They are from Revere and now live in Mississippi. They left it all behind to move down to the Delta where Marie’s family is from originally and where John gets to play bass on some of the coolest gigs eva (Boston accent)! John made us an incredible meal, complete with homemade pasta and lots of delicious red wine. They put us up for the night in their guest room and then next day we met our our friend (and killer keys player) Mark Yacavone for a southern breakfast before getting on the road to Muscle Shoals.

 

Back to Muscle Shoals, Ice Driving

The trip from Oxford to Muscle Shoals was slippery — lots of ice on the road — and by the time we arrived in Florence, AL, around 3 pm, everything was shutting down. The roads were covered in ice. Our wonderful hosts Will and Julie Trapp let us come over to their place a little earlier than planned and set up camp in their guest bedroom. They made us soup and grilled cheese (Will’s specialty) and then Will braved the elements to take us over to a venue in town for some music. His ice driving was impressive.

Nashville then Home!

The next day, we headed back to Nashville for a last day with my parents before flying back to Boston. They are wonderful people. Kind, generous in spirit, loving and a joy. It’s so special to get time together as life keeps marching forward. We are making plans to see them more often.

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A cold day in Florida with my best friend and partner in life (and my drummer) – so grateful he’s on this journey with me!

This is a lot. A lot of happenings, a lot of info. When I started this post, I was writing it on Facebook. I wasn’t planning on typing so much, but there was so much to tell. So much to be grateful for. Now as I look back, I see what a killer couple of weeks that was, how much generosity we experienced. It’s easy to walk away and leave a time like this behind too quickly. I’m taking a moment to reflect and be inspired.

I’m beginning to understand what is truly at the heart of building a music career from the ground up — what the true joy is. It’s the people and experiences you encounter along the way. THANK YOU.

Muscle Shoals Sessions Album: Meet the Amazing Band

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I love making records. It’s probably my favorite part of being a singer. Singing live is a blast and I love that too, but there’s something so special about getting a group of some of the best musicians around together for a few days with the one focus of making and recording music. Magic can happen and in my experience, does. I’m looking forward to making magic with these folks. Here’s the band for my new album, The Muscle Shoals Sessions. The core players will join me in Muscle Shoals and then we will record background vocals and horns in Nashville in February. Good times!

Screen Shot 2015-01-05 at 7.57.43 PMSpooner Oldham, Keys – Spooner is at the heart of this project. I met him a year and a half ago. My producer Lex Price had the idea of asking if he would join us for a one-day session we were doing at FAME. I’d wanted to record at FAME for a while because of my family connection to the area. Initially we were going to do a few songs for the “This Is Home” album, but once we finished recording in Nashville, realized that the new album was complete. That’s when I had the idea to record some classic Muscle Shoals songs and put out an EP. We were all in awe having Spooner there with us at FAME. He’s a legend. It was a treat to get to know him, hear many stories of the past, and hear him play the same Wurley that he played with Aretha (pictured above). We became friends and have stayed in touch since. I’m so glad to have him back for this album. His unique talent and special connection to Muscle Shoals past brings great authenticity to the project. And I just like the guy.

[SPOONER BIO] Spooner was an integral part of the Muscle Shoals studio bands of the late ’60s, as an organist he made a definite mark on the sound of soul music. Starting as a piano player in high school bands, when Oldham graduated and began studying at the University of North Alabama, he quickly found himself skipping classes in favor of hanging around Rick Hall’s FAME studios in nearby Florence, Al. After adding the ghostly organ sound on Percy Sledge’s runaway hit “When a Man Loves a Woman,” Oldham became a member of Rick Hall’s ace studio band alongside guitarist Jimmy Johnson, bassist Junior Lowe and drummer Roger Hawkins. Together the unit played on landmark albums by Wilson Pickett and Aretha Franklin among others. Defecting to Memphis in 1967, Oldham teamed up with singer Dan Penn at Chips Moman’s American Studios, and the duo developed into one of the best songwriting partnerships in music. Together the two wrote hits for Aretha Franklin (“Do Right Woman”) and the Box Tops (“Cry Like a Baby”) among others as well as having their songs appear as album cuts on artists such as Janis Joplin (“A Woman Left Lonely”). After the trailblazing days of southern soul came to an end, Oldham took his considerable talents elsewhere, adding piano and organ to such acts as Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Jackson Browne and the Everly Brothers. He remains a respected figure among music aficionados not only for his tasteful keyboard playing, but for his songwriting as well. (Source: ALL MUSIC)

Screen Shot 2015-01-05 at 7.57.56 PMWill Kimbrough, Guitars – Will and I met in 2013 when he worked on my “This Is Home” album in Nashville. I was very excited to work with him. I’d heard great things from a lot of folks, including Rodney Crowell. Will’s playing is crazy good and he is an excellent human too. I quickly became a huge fan. His playing is so soulful, creative and versatile. I love what he brings to the music as the lead guitarist. I had the pleasure to do some touring with him this year and to record a short EP of four songs at Muscle Shoals. There was no way I was doing this extended version of the project without Will. He da bomb diggy.

[BIO] Will Kimbrough is hungry. The youthful singer, songwriter, award-winning guitarist, multi-instrumentalist, producer, performer and bandleader has a voracious appetite for every aspect of music. Born and raised in the deep south of the Alabama Gulf Coast, he ingested eclectic FM radio sounds and the music of nearby New Orleans. In his quest to develop his musical capacities to their fullest, Will Kimbrough has become a modern-day Renaissance Man.

Kimbrough’s body of work reflects a lifetime of performing, writing and collaborating from more angles than Da Vinci’s protractor. True to his search for universal truths, his profound musical knowledge and expert creations reflect years of learning the intricacies of folk, blues, gospel, country, rock’n’roll, punk rock and jazz.

With songs recorded by Jimmy Buffett, Little Feat, Jack Ingram, Todd Snider and others, Kimbrough’s multidisciplinary approach has led to many desirable collaborations in the studio and on-stage with well-known artists, including Roseanne Cash, Guy Clark, Rodney Crowell, Steve Earle, Gomez, Emmylou Harris, the Jayhawks, Mark Knopfler, Buddy Miller, John Prine, Toumani Diabate, Kim Richey, Josh Rouse, Matthew Ryan, Billy Joe Shaver, Todd Snider, Mavis Staples, Garrison Starr, Adrienne Young, and others.

Dubbed an Alien performer as a way to explain his masterful performance on the guitar, Kimbrough was recognized in 2004 as the Instrumentalist of the Year by the Americana Music Association – an award that had previously been awarded three years in a row to Dobro ace Jerry Douglas. (from Will’s website)

His most recent solo album is “Sideshow Love.”

Screen Shot 2015-01-05 at 7.57.50 PMLex Price, Producer, Mixer and Bass – I met Lex several years ago when I was looking for a producer in Nashville. I met with him and several other guys and was drawn to him the most. When I asked what he felt he could bring to my recorded music, he said that he would like to dirty up the sound a bit. That intrigued me and as I dug dig deeper it was clear that this was the guy I wanted to work with for “This Is Home.” He also is a killer bass player (among other instruments) and played on the album. He did an amazing job on that album and the Muscle Shoals EP. I’m so glad to be working with him once again. Oh, and he has a super cool beard. : )

[BIO] Since arriving in Nashville in 1998, multi-instrumentalist and producer Lex Price has quietly become one of the most respected all-around musicians in the city’s rapidly evolving scene. His contributions on stage, on the road and in the studio have bolstered some of today’s most intriguing and uncompromising artists, including k.d. lang, Mindy Smith, Peter Bradley Adams, Sarah Siskind, Bruce Robison, Kelly Willis, Matthew Ryan, Kate York and Grant Lee Phillips. In Price, they have found a musician long on craft and experience but also one with impeccable taste and restraint. He makes the most of every gesture, and he pares away the inessential until all that remains is integrity and beauty. Lex has produced acclaimed albums for artists including Mindy Smith, Robby Hecht, Peter Bradley Adams, Amy Black, The Westies. Price is currently k.d. lang’s bassist.

Screen Shot 2015-01-05 at 7.58.06 PMBryan Owings, Drums & Percussion – This will be my first time working with Bryan, but I can’t wait. He plays with some of my favorite folks (see below). I love a killer drummer who knows how to lay down a groove I can move to and I know I have one for this session. Bryan’s credits are very impressive and the word on the street is that he’s a great guy. Uber talented and super nice. What a great combo!

[BIO] Drummer Bryan Owings is a Mississippi native who has called Nashville home since the late 1980s. He has played with Buddy and Julie Miller, Wanda Jackson, Delbert McClinton, Patty Griffin, Lucinda Williams, Shelby Lynne and recently played with Alicia Keys on music recorded for the acclaimed Muscle Shoals documentary.

Ann and Regina McCrary, Background Vocals Screen Shot 2015-01-05 at 7.58.12 PM– Oh man. I’m pretty fired up about these ladies saying yes to joining this project. I’m a great admirer of their singing. The first time I heard them was on Buddy Miller’s “Universal House of Prayer.” Wow. They bring the soul and the fire to any project they work on. They are are going to be a huge part of the soulful experience I want listeners to have when listening to this album. I met Ann through my publicist Karen Leipziger and after a great time at coffee we discussed the project and she and Regina agreed to come on board. We will do their vocals in Nashville in February. Can’t wait!

[BIO] For The McCrary Sisters, the daughters of the late Rev. Samuel McCrary — one of the original members of the legendary gospel quartet The Fairfield Four. The daughters were raised in harmony, singing at home and at their father’s church.

Ann traveled and sang with the Fairfield Four from the age of 3 until she was 6. She sung with various gospel groups on the weekends until she began singing and traveling with the BCM Mass Choir (Baptist, Catholic, and Methodist) as one of their soloist. Ann has performed with the who’s who of contemporary gospel music, including The Winans, Donnie McClurkin, Yolanda Adams, and many more. Ann has recorded 2 CD’s: “What Is This,” produced by Cedric, and Victor Caldwell, recorded on ATF records; and the self-titled “Ann McCrary,” produced by Steve Crawford, on Vital records. Ann was also a member of Bobby Jones’s Nashville Super Choir for 12 years.

Regina began her singing career traveling with the BCM Mass Choir as one of the soloists at the age of 7, and was known throughout the choir’s travels for singing/recording “I Made A Vow” (the recording was nominated for a Grammy). Regina toured and performed for 6 years with the legendary songwriter Bob Dylan. She recorded three albums with Dylan: “Slow Train Coming”, “Saved”, and “Shot of Love”. Regina released her solo CD, “I Made A Vow”, in 2007. Regina also performed with Elvis and Stevie Wonder and has sung with Bobby Jones, and The New Life Singers, and The Nashville Super Choir

Screen Shot 2015-01-05 at 7.58.19 PMCharles Rose, Horn Arrangements and Trombone – Charles Rose is new to me, but he is not new to the music of Muscle Shoals. He’s a member of the Muscle Shoals Horns group and has played on some incredible music through the years. Having him on the project and at the helm of the horn arrangements gives me the confidence that we are going to make music that truly represents the legacy of Muscle Shoals.

[BIO] Charles Rose is a Shoals based trombonist who is an original member of the Muscle Shoals Horns. Charles has toured extensively with Elton John, Lyle Lovett and Waylon Jennings. He’s shared a stage or a studio with the likes of Delbert McClinton, Dobie Gray, Joe Cocker, James Brown, Jason Isbell, Millie Jackson, Johnny Nash, Dr. Hook, Levon Helm, Denise LaSalle, Clarence Carter, Kris Kristofferson, Freddie North, Court Pickett, Bobby Blue Bland, Canned Heat and Z.Z. Hill just to name a few.

Screen Shot 2015-01-05 at 7.58.25 PMJim Hoke, Saxophone –  Jim is new to me too, but it seems like he’s got credits on pretty much every album I’ve listened to recently. He’s an excellent addition to the band and will bring the Muscle Shoals horn sound to life with his saxophone playing!

[BIO] Jim is Nashville’s premier “go to” guy on sax/woodwinds, harmonica, pedal steel, a plethora of other color instruments, plus horn and string arrangements for a virtual who’s who of artists of every musical category. Top artists in pop, country, Americana and many other styles respect Jim for the amazing level of artistry he brings to everything he does. Nashville is a town of musical specialists and Jim is a rarity – a specialist on a baffling number of instruments, and he plays each one as if it’s the only thing he does.  On sax, you hear the whole history of the saxophone coming through; warm luxuriant Lester Young, soulful tough King Curtis, suave and smart Stan Getz and much more, melding into Jim’s own style. When he plays blues/country harp, you hear plaintive Sonny Terry blues, raw Paul Butterfield urban energy, and so much more. On chromatic harmonica, there’s Stevie Wonder lyricism and Toots Thielemans innovation. Drawing so deeply from the well enables Jim to be the perfect stylist for any musical situation and this is the main reason for his success in the studio.

Screen Shot 2015-01-05 at 7.58.36 PMSteve Herrmann, Trumpet –  Steve came highly recommended to me by my publicist and she knows her horns, so we took her advice. Turns out that Steve often works with Charles and Jim, so it all came together easily.

[BIO] Steve Herrman grew up in Hamilton, Ohio. Herrman began taking piano lessons in first grade, but ultimately quit because at the time he “was too immature to do technical drills.” Shortly thereafter, he found a trumpet lying around the house and decided to try and play it, and immediately found his voice. Still, Herrman never considered making music his life until, “[he] really started listening to jazz and then [he] heard Miles Davis.”

In his 20s Herrman began playing with a Mexican Cumbia band in Dallas when he got a call to fill in for Delbert McClinton’s trumpet player, who was taking a job in Japan and he stayed for 7 years. Through working with McClinton, Herrman met saxophonist Jim Horn and began a three year stint with Waylon Jennings, where he met Charles Rose, leader of the Muscle Shoals Horns. That friendship would lead to countless recording sessions, as well as a stint in the Lyle Lovett Band. Since then, Herrman has been freelancing and joined Kenny Chesney from 2007-2010. (source: Blues Rock Review)

Screen Shot 2015-01-05 at 7.58.29 PMJoe Costa, Sound Engineer – I got the chance to work with Joe in Nashville when I recorded “This Is Home” in Studio A (Ben Folds Studio). In addition to working with many other artists, Joe is Ben Fold’s longtime and highly trusted sound engineer. I was so impressed with his abilities and, not to mention, his awesome personality. He was an obvious addition to the team and we look forward to bringing him to Muscle Shoals. Oh, I did I mentioned that he’s originally from Massachusetts. Nice.

[BIO] – Joe is originally from Dartmouth, MA, He was a staff engineer at Synchro Sound Boston MA 1992-1993, Moved to Nashville in 1993 and has been a freelance Engineer from 1993-Present.

That’s the team. Because of them, we are going to have a killer album to share with you this year!

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Notes and photos from the road – Touring Texas and more!

 

I recently spent three weeks down in Texas playing shows in Houston, Austin, Ft. Worth, Dallas, San Antonio and a small town called Eastland. Thanks to some of my talented friends, I had the pleasure of playing great rooms and meeting a lot of new folks. The highs of the trip were playing the shows, hanging with great people (including my little sister), visiting cool parts of each of the cities and eating lots of tacos. The lows of the trip were an $180 speeding ticket (ouch!) and giant roaches (both happened to be in Waco). I had a blast and can’t wait to play Texas again sooner than later!

I also had the pleasure of playing in Mississippi and Tennessee, coming back to Boston for a big show in my hometown and then playing a sold out show at one of my new favorite venues in Maryland. 

 

Here’s a pictorial review…

 
Rockin with Ryan for a full room at WDVX’s Blue Plate Special in Knoxville, TN

 

Playing for the public radio folks at Thacker Mountain Radio Hour in Oxford, MS
A fun night with the Steel Wheels in Dallas!

 

A sweet show in Austin with my talented friend Wendy Colonna

 

 

Wonderful night at the Mucky Duck in Houston w/Wendy Colonna & Charlie Faye

 

 

Breakfast at a host’s beautiful home after a great house concert the night before

 

 

 

Going for a swim in a natural spring in Austin. Cold but refreshing!

 

 

Back at home for a show at Brighton Music Hall with Girls Guns and Glory & Miss Tess (Jim Scoppa on guitar and thanks to Kathryn Garcia for the photos)

 

One of my new favorite venues! The Stoltz Listening Room at Avalon Theatre in Easton, MD. This place rocks and I can’t say enough good things about this audience!