Oh My Goodness is Donnie Fritts’ most polished record to date, an elevated and slight departure from the funky Muscle Shoals sound he’s known for, but with every bit the powerhouse songwriting that made the world take notice decades ago.
“I didn’t want to do just another funk album,” Donnie says. “I wanted to do songs I really love and songs I never got to cut before.”
“People don’t make records with 71 year-old guys,” he says, his humility always sitting shotgun by his talent. John Paul White, formerly of the Grammy winning duo The Civil Wars and presently co-founder of Single Lock Records and owner of Sun Drop Studios in Florence, Ala., befriended Donnie in 2013 when he asked him to play at the Muscle Shoals documentary premiere in Florence. Later, John Paul insisted the two cut an album. What began as a minimalist work - Donnie’s raspy voice and his 1970’s-era Wurlitzer - morphed into an amalgamation of fresh sound and honed talent backed by Nashville and Muscle Shoals legends, and rising brilliants alike.
“John Paul came by the house and I just started playing songs on the Wurlitzer piano. John Paul said, if we do this album, you just play that Wurlitzer, sing the songs, and we’ll build around it.”
“Erroll Flynn” leads the album, a tribute to the character actors of yesterday for whom Donnie holds tremendous respect. A Hollywood veteran himself, with bit parts in Sam Peckinpah’s early 70’s films “Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid” and “Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia,” Donnie’s friend and actor Billy Bob Thornton turned him on to Amanda McBroom’s song, written for her father the actor, David Bruce. Donnie’s warbling, fractured voice rises and falls with the lines “disappointment and bourbon are hard on the heart / it’s hard on the heart” and “the last time I saw him / the last time I cried.” Accompanied by John Paul White on guitar and St. Paul and the Broken Bones’s Allen Bransetter on trumpet and Ben Griner on trombone, Donnie takes listeners on a nostalgic ride with honest emotion.
Violin and viola meld with the smooth, angelic background harmony of Laura and Lydia Rogers of The Secret Sisters on “If It’s Really Gotta Be This Way” that compliments Donnie’s original track co-written with Gary Nicholson and Arthur Alexander. The Secret Sisters return on “Lay it Down” along with Brittany Howard of Alabama Shakes, singer-songwriter Dylan LeBlanc and John Paul White providing background vocals on the sorrowful goodbye ballad.
John Prine, who appears on each of Donnie’s four albums, returns on “The Oldest Baby in the World,” which he and Donnie co-wrote. Donnie’s long time friend and frequent co-performer Spooner Oldham plays piano on the title track “Oh My Goodness,” which the two wrote together, as Donnie finishes the album with this lulling melody that’s at once devotional hymn and love song.
Jason Isbell and wife Amanda Shires appear on the album, along with Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section bassist David Hood, Nashville guitarist Reggie Young and a slew of The Shoals’ next generation.
“This album means so much to me,” Donnie says. “I thought I wouldn’t get another shot. It’s the most personal and important album to me. It’s one of the most special things I ever got to do in my life.”
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 three previous albums-- Prone to Lean, Everybody’s Got a Song, and the Dan Penn-produced One Foot in the Groove-- all stacked with hit original tracks.
With Oh My Goodness, the septuagenarian has effectively bridged Muscle Shoals’s famed repute and hallowed funky sound with the new brigade of singer-writers and Shoals musicians of today, while producing a refined album distinctly all his own.