The Unforgettable Sound of Muscle Shoals

Muscle Shoals, a must-see and listen to documentary, begins in the late 1950s. Rick Hall, a local musician, is let go from his band for being all work and no play. He opens FAME Studios in Florence, Alabama. At his second studio, in Muscle Shoals, a sleepy little town located alongside the Tennessee River, Hall chalked up an instant hit with the first single recorded there: “You Better Move On” by Arthur Alexander; this would also become a 1964 U.K. success for the Rolling Stones, who later would also journey to Muscle Shoals. Some R&B breakthroughs, born from Hall’s studio, include Percy Sledge’s “When a Man Loves a Woman,” several tracks by Wilson Pickett, and the chain of hits that made Aretha Franklin a superstar after she’d been mismanaged and dropped by Columbia Records.
Aretha Franklin
Many attribute the resonant sound that came out of Muscle Shoals to the spiritual influence of the river, the “Singing River,” as Native Americans called it, but as you will see in the documentary it was a convergence of talent that helped create some of the most important songs of all time. Beyond its mysterious acoustic sound and atmospheric feel, FAME was sought after because its in-house band was so funky that visitors were often very surprised that (in their first two incarnations) the group consisted only of regional white musicians. In the late 1960s, FAME’s session lineup that was known as the Swampers left to start their own studio across town—equally successful as Hall’s. Hall then put together a new, more racially integrated house band titled the FAME Gang.
The Swampers
Both studios continued to produce an outstanding catalog of hit records through the 1970s, including everything from the Osmonds and Paul Anka, to Joe Cocker, Rod Stewart and Bob Seger. It was also largely responsible for Southern rock, recording early tracks by the Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Muscle Shoals is a solid music documentary. Juggling between viewpoints, director Greg Camailer touches upon the racial politics of the time, the region’s history, the romance of a life in a small Southern town, Rick Hall’s personal tragedies and more. The documentary could have used a tighter storyline and offers no real insight into Hall’s bitter splits with studio producer Jerry Wexler and his original backup players. The film though is top-of-the-line, maybe even too polished, with many picture-perfect vistas of the rolling countryside softening the gritty edge that noted Muscle Shoals’ most unforgettable music.
Rick Hall and Wilson Pickett
Still, music lovers will delight in hearing personal accounts of how classic songs such as Aretha Franklin’s “Respect,” the Rolling Stones’ “Brown Sugar,” Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird” and “Sweet Home Alabama,” and others were created. On top of a dazzling lineup of subjects—Pickett, Etta James and Keith Richards are among the most entertaining—the film offers a wealth of archival concert, TV and behind-the-scenes footage.
Muscle Shoals is a not to be missed; it is stocked with so many moments full of charm and beauty that the most indifferent of us can still fall in love with this film.  As a record of this distinguished era in music, Muscle Shoals is a stirring success.  

GRADE: B+

—Myrna Duarte
@MyrnaDuarte

Please enjoy some of the sounds that came out of a magical time and place, the little town 
by the “Singing River”. Spotify Webplayer – The Sounds of Muscle Shoals by Sidobbs
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