I first heard Amy Black in 2012 when her second full-length, One Time, was just out and she was working an office job while only imagining a full-time music career. Three years and three albums later, Black ditched the office and hit the road for good, living her dream. In support of her latest effort, The Muscle Shoals Sessions, Black and husband Ryan (drums) thumped through two sets of soulful classics and original tunes in the spirit of the Muscle Shoals, Alabama, soul sound of the ‘60s and ‘70s with verve and passion.
Amy and her five-piece band of twenty-somethings (all are grads or have attended Berklee College of Music) powered through “Uptight, Good Man,” the Laura Lee R&B classic written by legends Spooner Oldham and Den Penn, and a couple of Etta James all-out gems “I’d Rather Go Blind” and “Watchdog.”
Black showed some serious soul songwriting chops herself on the originals “Get To Me,” a smoldering and slinky Temptations-influenced number, and the incendiary “Woman On Fire.”
With the exception of Ryan Black, the baby-faced band members were chosen by Amy after lengthy auditions, and it’s obvious these guys were the right choices. Guitarist Sam Smith’s slide work on “You Gotta Move” was a chilling, hair-raising sonic experience. Bassist Brett Fry (the spit and image of original Swampers drummer Roger Hawkins) kept the rhythm section chugging with righteous funk.
Black, who grew up in Missouri and Alabama, sang nearly every song on the new album, songs originally recorded in Muscle Shoals and which she covered in the legendary FAME Studios. Highlights included classics by Sam Cooke (“Bring It on Home to Me,” which Lou Rawls recorded there), Bob Dylan (“Gotta Serve Somebody”), and Arthur Alexander (“You Better Move On”), and the more recent “Tighten Up” by The Black Keys. Especially memorable was Black’s emotional and compelling version of “Starting All Over Again” by Mel and Tim.
Black’s early albums had a more contemporary country/folk sound, and she seems to have steadily embraced her soulful side, reaching back to last year’s This Is Home album for “I’m Home,” a slow bluesy ode to finally coming home, to finding yourself exactly where you belong.
Black finished the evening with an off-mic a cappella version of “Shadow of Doubt,” (the Gary Nicholson song covered most notably by Bonnie Raitt) demonstrating her vocal power and control, making an indelible statement that dreams sometimes do come true.