“Well I met him when I was only sixteen
We could not believe how the big man could sing
And to our surprise he wrote his own tunes
Oh what a talent, the man we called “June””
June is the title of the new record from Donnie Fritts, a personal and emotional tribute to his best friend, the late, great Muscle Shoals R&B legend Arthur Alexander. Recorded in the evenings at the original location of Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, June feels like cracking open an old photo album and flipping through it’s pages. It’s a deeply poignant and moving tribute to a fallen friend.
“His name was Arthur Alexander, Junior,” Fritts explains. “That’s why we called him June.”
June opens with the title track, a song that Fritts penned in 1993 on the ride back to Muscle Shoals from the Nashville hospital where Alexander succumbed to complications from a heart attack. “My heart was broken, but I wanted to express how I felt about him,” Fritts says. “So I did it the only way I knew how— I wrote a song for him.”
That song appears for the first time as the title track to this record. What follows is a collection of Alexander standards, including a haunting rework of Alexander’s groundbreaking classic “You Better Move On”, a song that kickstarted the Muscle Shoals music industry.
“It was the first R&B hit record to come out of the Muscle Shoals area,” Fritts explains. “Groups like The Rolling Stones and The Beatles loved June’s songs. They recorded a few of them, too.” (The Stones released their version of “You Better Move On” in the US on December’s Children (And Everybody’s) in 1965.)
The personnel from Fritts’ critically acclaimed 2015 release, Oh My Goodness, return to backup the “Alabama Leaning Man” on June: John Paul White on guitar and vocals, David Hood on bass, Ben Tanner on keyboards, Reed Watson on drums and Kelvin Holly on electric guitar. Laura and Lydia Rogers from The Secret Sisters provide harmonies, while Kimi Samson and Caleb Elliott provide violin and cello, respectively. White and Tanner return as co-producers.
That band gets an opportunity to stretch out on songs like “I’d Do It Over Again”, a track co-written by Alexander, Fritts and Dan Penn and recorded by Marshall Crenshaw for Adios Amigo, a 1994 Alexander tribute album, and “Come Along With Me”, an Alexander/Fritts tune that first appeared on Alexander’s 1972 self-titled Warner Brothers LP.
“He always encouraged me to write songs, so when I wrote my first song I showed it to him,” Fritts says. “He really bragged on it. It made me feel so good and really encouraged me to keep writing.”
The emotional apex of June may appear on “Thank God He Came”, an Alexander/Fritts gospel rave-up that closed Alexander’s ’72 self-titled LP, but raises the stakes on June— reaching for the heavens with the voices of veteran Shoals session singers Cindy Walker and Marie Lewey anchoring Kelvin Holly’s sprawling guitar solo, Ben Tanner’s Hammond organ and the propulsive rhythm section of David Hood and Reed Watson. Amen, indeed.
June closes with “Adios, Amigo”, an appropriate tip-of-the-cap written by Fritts and Penn that originally appeared as the title track for the aforementioned 1994 Alexander tribute. On June, it’s Fritts at his Wurlitzer electric piano singing to his best friend. The album finishes the way it starts— one legendary songwriter to singing to another.
“It was such an honor to do this album,” Fritts explains. “I hope this album will mean as much to listeners as it does to me and my family.”
Donnie Fritts is a Florence, Ala. native and one of many local musical luminaries. He’s a lauded songwriter, noted for his tracks “We Had It All” (recorded by scores of artists from Waylon Jennings and Dolly Parton to Ray Charles) and “Breakfast in Bed” which he co-wrote with Eddie Hinton for Dusty Springfield’s album Dusty in Memphis. He played and travelled with Kris Kristofferson’s band for nearly 20 years, and has released four previous albums-- Prone to Lean, Everybody’s Got a Song, the Dan Penn-produced One Foot in the Groove and Oh My Goodness, his first release for Florence, Alabama’s Single Lock Records.
With three solo albums to her credit, Nashville-based singer-songwriter Lera Lynn is returning with a new release that more than speaks to the power of collaboration. She's collaborated before on songwriting with T-Bone Burnett and Rosanne Cash, and on her new album, Plays Well With Others, Lynn has taken the collaboration to the nth degree. On Plays Well, Lynn, who had an incredible career-altering moment in HBO's True Detective, teams up with eight different duet partners and seven co-writers on this stunning new collection of duets.
Almost every song on the new album is completely co-written and co-sung. Peter Bradley Adams, John Paul White, Dylan LeBlanc, Andrew Combs, Rodney Crowell, Shovels & Rope, JD McPherson, and Nicole Atkins all make appearances, and worked alongside Lynn to perform and create the songs.
Read more and hear "Lose Myself feat. John Paul White" at NPR! Click here.
MARKING THE ARRIVAL OF A STUNNING NEW VOICE FROM THE AMERICAN SOUTH, ERIN RAE WILL RELEASE HER HIGHLY ANTICIPATED NEW ALBUM PUTTING ON AIRS, JUNE 8 ON SINGLE LOCK RECORDS. PREORDER IT BY CLICKING HERE.
Rae, whose genre-fusing mix of traditional folk, indie-rock, and 1960s psych-rock production has landed her collaborations with artists like Margo Price and Andrew Combs – not to mention critical attention from the world’s top music media, including Rolling Stone, NPR, and the BBC -- is finally stepping out into the spotlight with Putting On Airs. A forthcoming NPR World Café session and a busy tour schedule, including spring support dates with the Mountain Goats and Margo Price, and an appearance at End Of The Road Festival in the UK, shows Erin Rae’s star is on the rise on both sides of the Atlantic.
Buoying the release is Rae’s reputation as an enthralling live performer, which has earned her the respect of Nashville peers and music notables alike, including Grammy Award winner John Paul White, who has signed her to his Florence, Alabama-based label, Single Lock Records. Rae joins a Single Lock roster that includes Nicole Atkins, St. Paul And The Broken Bones, and White himself, who said “When I first heard Erin’s compelling voice, I knew nothing about her. It was live, with no intro (she was opening for friends of mine), and I was instantly transfixed. I couldn’t wait to engage, and that’s something I very seldom feel, much less do. I was thrilled to find out her personality was as engaging as her voice and songs, and that she was looking for a home. I couldn’t be happier to be hitching our wagons together.”
Rae describes “Can’t Cut Loose” as “a song about romanticizing addiction in all of its forms, from substances to love and relationships. I wrote this song to that incessant longing voice in my head that tells me I need something else to make me feel different or better.”
Gifted with the unique ability to fuse musical genres and influences to craft songs that feels fresh and wholly her own, with Putting On Airs, Rae has thrown down a direct challenge to the stereotype of what a southern singer should be. Both musically and lyrically, she strikes a fiercely independent chord, proudly releasing a deeply personal record that reflects her own experience and upbringing in Tennessee, including the prejudices and injustices that she witnessed as a child that continue to impact her life to this day, including her personal struggle to understand her own sexuality. According to Rae, "this album was born out of a need to do some healing work in my personal life, to address some fears, and patterns of mine and allow my true feelings to come to the surface."
The isolated environment created the perfect setting for Erin and her bandmates to track these genre-busting songs, using the chapel and other unique spaces within the cavernous building to explore new sonic boundaries, all while continuing to showcase Erin’s trademark vocals and the song-serving restraint first heard on her critically-acclaimed 2015 debut album, Soon Enough (engineered and produced by Anderson East and Mike Rinne).
The unique sound of the record is inspired by the innovative 1960s European production techniques from artists like the Beatles and Francoise Hardy, paired alongside the restraint and minimalism of modern artists like Wilco, Richard Hawley, and ≈, bridging the sonic gap between classic songwriting and a modern indie-rock ethos. The album was co-produced by engineer Dan Knobler (Rodney Crowell, Tift Merritt) and multi-instrumentalist Jerry Bernhardt. Dominic Billett also served an integral role in the collective that worked together to create the album’s innovative and varied sonic pallet, providing the perfect soundscape for Erin’s soothing vocals, bathing everything in the warmth and purity that has become her trademark sound.
Alongside “Can’t Cut Loose,” preview track “Like The First Time” was released in 2017 around her sell-out UK tour, drawing strong support from Spotify, as well as critical acclaim from British media, including the BBC and tastemakers Line Of Best Fit and Gold Flake Paint. Discussing the track, Rae explained that “I wrote this while I was kicking myself for acting against my own desires in an attempt to gain approval or validation to take the loneliness away. It just made me feel worse, which is a lesson I’ve had to relearn time and time again, and I think other folks do this, too. It’s that internal thought process of “if I just see this person one more time, maybe we’ll figure it out and make it work, and maybe I can make sure you think well of me, and speak well of me to other people.” Maybe that’s being too direct and clear, but I think so many of us have these little ulterior motives that get mixed in with attraction and lust. A driving force behind this record is the process of me trying to get honest with myself about when these feelings are at play, and waiting to act on them until I have more clarity and they feel like they are coming from a healthy place.
BELLE ADAIR ISN’T YOUR DAD’S MUSCLE SHOALS MUSIC
NEW ALBUM ‘TUSCUMBIA’ - RECORDED AT FAME STUDIOS AND PRODUCED BY TOM SCHICK (WILCO, PARQUET COURTS) – SET FOR JAN 19 ON SINGLE LOCK RECORDS
When Muscle Shoals four-piece Belle Adair recorded their new album ‘Tuscumbia,’ due out January 19 on Single Lock Records, they leaned into their hometown’s musical legacy to create a sound unlike anything that’s come out of The Shoals region before. Produced by longtime Wilco collaborator Tom Schick (Real Estate, Parquet Courts, Iron & Wine), ‘Tuscumbia’ was tracked at the hallowed FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, home to legendary sessions by Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, Paul Simon, Duane Allman, and countless others, and mixed at The Loft, Wilco’s home base in Chicago. The result doesn’t so much update the Muscle Shoals sound as redefine it with chiming guitars, meditative lyrics and a breezy, blissed-out feel.
The eleven new songs on ‘Tuscumbia’ were all written by frontman Matt Green, and the album marks a massive leap forward for a band that’s already been praised by NPR for its “dreamy sound” and by SPIN for songs that “glow with a deep, dusky aura.” Both grand and intimate, far-reaching and deeply personal, ‘Tuscumbia’ is a definitive declaration of identity from a band that bucks tradition in search of their own personal truths.
While Belle Adair is rewriting what it means to be a band from Muscle Shoals, the group’s ties to their local music community run deep. Keyboardist Ben Tanner and drummer Reed Watson run Single Lock Records, which has released music by Alabama artists like St. Paul and The Broken Bones, Dylan LeBlanc, Donnie Fritts and label co-founder / multi-GRAMMY winner John Paul White. In recent years, Belle Adair has also served as something of a house band to other Single Lock artists, backing White, Fritts and others on extensive tours. Through this work, Belle Adair finds themselves at the center of one of the South’s most thriving independent music scenes, building Muscle Shoals into an artistic beacon for a new generation. ‘Tuscumbia’ is out January 19 on Single Lock Records, a full track list is below.
‘TUSCUMBIA’ TRACK LIST
Long Fade Out
See It Through
Out On The Blue
Pushing the Stone