For a tiny city in Alabama, Muscle Shoals produced some of the heftiest records in modern music. Muscle Shoals was home to FAME Studios, run by the awarded producer Rick Hall, which became best known as the recording destination for R&B greats like Wilson Pickett and Etta James, and later the studio home for country and rock artists.
A second venue, Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, also wielded a powerful impact, welcoming artists like Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones and helping make the little town a wide-ranging musical mecca. Among the classics recorded at FAME were “Tell Mama” by Etta James, Mac Davis’ “Baby Don’t Get Hooked on Me” and “Mustang Sally” by Wilson Pickett. The great Gregg Allman chose FAME for what would be his final album, “Southern Blood.”
The Muscle Shoals legacy and influence are being celebrated on a new, star-studded album, “Muscle Shoals . . . Small Town, Big Sound,” set to hit digital retailers on September 28th. The record features Chris Stapleton, Willie Nelson, Grace Potter, Steven Tyler and other stars serving up their versions of seminal classics recorded in Muscle Shoals. To recut these songs, many of the artists traveled to FAME studios to fully get the “Muscle Shoals Sound” experience. The album is dedicated to the memory of Rick Hall, often called the “Father of the Muscle Shoals Sound,” who died earlier this year.
Highlights of “Muscle Shoals . . . Small Town, Big Sound” include Steven Tyler’s cover of “Brown Sugar,” “I Ain’t Easy to Love” by Candi Staton, Jason Isbell and John Paul White, and the teaming of Stapleton, Nelson, Lee Ann Womack and Jamey Johnson for Dylan’s “Gotta Serve Somebody.” Alan Jackson offers his take on the Stones’ “Wild Horses” while Grace Potter performs a powerhouse version of Etta James’ “I’d Rather Go Blind.”
To kick off this milestone album, BMI Recordings, Dreamlined Entertainment and FAME Studios hosted an exclusive listening event at the BMI building in Nashville. Guests were treated to a complete playback of “Muscle Shoals . . . Small Town, Big Sound” as well as remarks from the album’s executive producer Rodney Hall, son of Rick Hall, and producer Keith Stegall. The event was marked by an ironic tragedy, as R&B queen Aretha Franklin had died earlier that day. Franklin recorded her Top 10 hit “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)” at FAME Studios in 1967. Among the attendees at the gala listening party were Muscle Shoals studio musician David Hood, Mike Farris, who makes an appearance on the album with “Respect Yourself,” and Nuno Bettencourt, whose guitar playing provides a jolt of lightning on “Brown Sugar.”
“This record has been a full circle for me,” producer Stegall noted in a statement about the project. “It’s the music I grew up on and impassioned me to become a writer and a record producer.” Added Rodney Hall, “This album is special because it brings together artists that have been inspired by the magic of the Muscle Shoals Sound.”
Here is the complete track listing for “Muscle Shoals . . . Small Town, Big Sound”
1. The Road Of Love – Keb’ Mo’
2. I’d Rather Go Blind – Grace Potter
3. Brown Sugar – Steven Tyler & Nuno Bettencourt
4. Gotta Serve Somebody – Jamey Johnson, Willie Nelson, Chris Stapleton & Lee Ann Womack
5. Steal Away – Eli “Paperboy” Reed
6. Snatching It Back – Kid Rock
7. I’ll Take You There – Aloe Blacck
8. Cry Like A Rainy Day – Michael McDonald
9. True Love – Vince Gill & Wendy Moten
10. Come And Go Blues – Alison Krauss
11. Respect Yourself – Mike Farris with The Blind Boys of Alabama
12. Wild Horses – Alan Jackson
13. Mustang Sally – Brently Stephen Smith of Shinedown
14. We’ve Got Tonight – Chord Overstreet
15. Giving It Up For Your Love – Tom Johnston & Delbert McClinton
16. I Ain’t Easy To Love – Candi Staton with Jason Isbell & John Paul White
“Muscle Shoals . . . Small Town, Big Sound” is set to be released to digital retailers September 28th. Pre-order is available now.