LONDONDERRY, NH – Singer/songwriter Amy Black brings her Southern roots to the Tupelo Music Hall Nov. 6.
Black got her start in the Lowell, Mass., area about a decade ago. She recently moved from Somerville, Mass., to Nashville, and this November, returns to New England with her new album “They Muscle Shoals Sessions” her third solo release, recorded at FAME with producer/bass player Lex Price and featuring contributions by original “Swamper” Spooner Oldham.
The 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, Otis Redding, 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, one-time home of the Swampers.
For Amy Black, Muscle Shoals has always held a special place in her heart. Her parents were born there, and some of her fondest memories were made during frequent visits to both sets of grandparents. She 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 the area’s musical history was awakened. She fell so in love — and felt so at home — with the sweet soul music Oldham had helped craft decades before, Black decided to expand the EP into a full-length album of Shoals classics and seamlessly blended originals.
For 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).
On the new full-length CD, 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.
Regarding her originals, Black 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. The scorcher “Woman on Fire,” another original, draws on the Black Keys’ vibe. And Black’s sensual, percolating “Get to Me” gives a nod to Dusty Springfield.
“Making this music has changed me as an artist. It’s altered my musical course and I’m so glad,” says Black.
“The Muscle Shoals Sessions” had it’s inception back in 2013 when Black booked time at FAME to record a single song, “Alabama,” an ode to her adored late grandfather and label’s namesake, for her 2014 release, “This is Home.” With producer/bass player Lex Price at the helm, 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. “We all just loved being at FAME and making the music,” Black says.
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. It was so well received, they did more throughout New England. The show developed into an actual Muscle Shoals revue; Black even performed it there with Oldham and original Swampers bassist David Hood.
“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 in deeper. When she started considering her next project. Muscle Shoals beckoned. “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.
Now, she wants to educate others about Muscle Shoals, this special corner of the world that means so much to her, and spread the joy of the music.
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.
Where: Tupelo Music Hall
Who: Amy Black Trio/Liz Frame and the Kickers Double Bill
When: Friday, November 6, 8 p.m.
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