Muscle Shoals, Ala., is a town drenched in music history. Even though the estimated population is only about 14,000, many of the most influential artists in popular music, from Bob Dylan to the Rolling Stones to Aretha Franklin, have visited the area in the hopes of injecting that “Muscle Shoals sound” into their albums. (For more info on the subject, watch the documentary “Muscle Shoals” on Netflix.)
Younger artists also have recorded music there recently. Amy Black is an Americana singer-songwriter who made Boston her home for 30 years, but she has ties to Muscle Shoals. “My family is from Muscle Shoals,” says Black, 43, on the phone from Nashville, where she currently lives. “My parents grew up there, in that area, and both sets of grandparents were there my whole life. And so, I spent a lot of time in that area, but I didn’t know the history. I just had never heard about the music that was recorded there until I was much older and a recording artist myself. And so, when I found out more about the story, I just thought, ‘Man, I’d love to get down there.’”
In 2013, she traveled to the town, eventually recording an EP called “The Muscle Shoals Session.” Initially, she was going to finish up her second album, 2014’s “This Is Home.” However, when she and her producer got to the legendary FAME Studios, where Franklin, Wilson Pickett and Bobbie Gentry did their most memorable work, she had a hankering to record some oldies. “We just decided, ‘Well, let’s do some stuff from the catalog, the Muscle Shoals catalog,’” she remembers.
Earlier this year, Black released a sequel, aptly titled “The Muscle Shoals Sessions.” She went deep into the Muscle Shoals archives for this one, doing soulful, Southern-fried covers like Dylan’s “Gotta Serve Somebody” and Arthur Alexander’s “You Better Move On” (later covered by future Shoals guests the Stones). She also throws in some contemporary tunes, like The Black Keys’ “Tighten Up.”
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On both releases she had organist Spooner Oldham, a revered session musician and member of the legendary Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section (aka “The Swampers”), join in on the sessions. “He was pretty accessible – pretty easy to get a hold of through the studio, through FAME,” she says, “So, we thought, ‘Well, yeah, if we have Spooner, then let’s do the Muscle Shoals stuff.’”
Black has been performing these songs on the road for the past two years, doing her own Muscle Shoals Revue. Fellow Massachusetts rocker Sarah Borges has joined her for many of these shows. “We just kind of knew mutual people and were in the same area,” says Black. “So, when it came to me thinking of who to ask, who I thought would be great for this project, I asked Sarah.”
Considering how Borges dabbles in the same down-home rock-and-soul Black fully immersed herself in on “Sessions,” it’s easy to see why Black needed Borges on the road with her. “This isn’t something that I’ve done before, but the songs are so much fun to sing, and a lot of them are ones that people do know and love,” says Borges, 37, joining in on the call from Boston. “So, it’s fun to take a break from the old material and try something else.”
The singers and their traveling revue will hit Motorco Music Hall in Durham Friday night. While Black wants people to have a good time at her show, she’s also looking to hip them to all the great music that came out of Muscle Shoals, the same great music she discovered herself.
“Sometimes I will get people to give a show of hands before the show, like, ‘How many people know about Muscle Shoals?’” she says. “There are definitely songs in the set that people know, and, if they know about Muscle Shoals, they know those songs came from Muscle Shoals. But I think people are getting introduced to some new material. Even people who are familiar with the Muscle Shoals story probably haven’t heard, you know, some of these songs. Because I kind of went deep into the catalog and found some things I thought were really cool.”
What: A Muscle Shoals Musical Revue, with Amy Black and Sarah Borges
When: 8 p.m. Friday
Where: Motorco Music Hall, 723 Rigsbee Ave., Durham
Info: 919-901-0875 or motorcomusic.com