25 September 2023

Muscle Shoals: Small Town big Sound

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Reviewed by Ian Phillips.

By Various Artists, Sony Music 2018.

This is the second album I’ve come across that celebrates the amazing talent that has recorded at the famous Fame studios in the small Alabama town of Muscle Shoals.

Muscle Shoals is a town of just 13,000 people in Sheffield, Alabama and it’s had an extraordinary influence on American music.

At the heart of the town is the world-renowned Fame Studios which was founded by the late, Grammy Award winning producer, Rick Hall.

Artists from the Rolling Stones to Etta James and Bob Dylan have recorded some of the greatest music ever produced in this small studio in this tiny town.

This album has been five years in the making and features a collection of the most famous songs recorded in the studios.

The featured artists include Kid rock, Chris Stapleton, Willie Nelson, Grace Potter, Vince Gill, Alison Krauss, and Alan Jackson to name a few.

The songs covered are legendary. Steven Tyler & Nuno Bettencourt do a better version of Brown Sugar than the Stones did and Grace Potter’s version of I’d Rather Go Blind is drenched with emotion.

Bob Dylan’s Gotta Serve Somebody is performed by a super group of singers: Willie Nelson opens up and is followed by Jamey Johnson, Chris Stapleton and Lee Ann Womack.

There are so many fantastic performances on the disc that it’s hard to limit my mentions to just a few.

Alison Krauss’ acoustic rendition of Come And Go Blues is a brilliant example of just how powerful country blues can be when it’s done well and Mike Farris teams up with The Blind Boys of Alabama to turn in one of the best versions of Respect Yourself that I’ve heard.

The final track, I Ain’t Easy To Love featuring Candi Staton, Jason Isbell, and John Paul White is a cracker.

There’s a sense of reverence about the performances on the disc.

While the artists are having fun they’re also respectful of the immense privilege of recording these legendary songs in these famous surroundings.

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