Music and Mystique in Muscle Shoals

Univ. of Illinois. (Music in American Life). Jun. 2022. 288p. ISBN 9780252044519. $110; ; pap. ISBN 9780252086588. $22.95. MUSIC
Revising his dissertation, Reali (music, Ramapo Coll. of New Jersey) challenges myths that the soul music that came out of the Muscle Shoals region of northern Alabama was developed completely by Black artists. After describing the four-city region (Muscle Shoals, Florence, Tuscumbia, and Sheffield) and the emergence of a Shoals recording industry, he focuses on Muscle Shoals innovators such as engineer Rick Hall, who cofounded Florence Alabama Music Enterprises (FAME), and studio players bassist David Hood, guitarist Jimmy Johnson, keyboardist Barry Beckett, and drummer Roger Hawkins, who moved from FAME to establish Muscle Shoals Sound Studio. The author discusses how white Shoals studio musicians backed Black singers such as Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin, and Percy Sledge to create 1960s soul music, which ironically became the clarion call for Black Power. Reali moves to other Shoals recording projects such as the Osmonds and country pop and characterizes the amorphous, multifaceted “Muscle Shoals sound” as primarily a marketing device that lured the Rolling Stones and Paul Simon to the region. He concludes with the recent promotion of Muscle Shoals music as a tourist attraction.
VERDICT Though mired in minutiae and scholarly lingo, Reali’s work successfully shatters misconceptions about soul music and an identifiable Shoals sound and will appeal to academics and music aficionados.
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