I’ve written many times about my friend and multi-talented musician Tift Merritt. She is a singer/songwriter, guitarist, pianist, and creative spirit. Her podcast The Spark with Tift Merritt is a conversation about integrity and process, and features some of the most creative minds of our age, including Rosanne Cash, Andrew Bird, and Kiki Smith (among others). In addition to managing her solo career, Tift occasionally plays with Andrew Bird and the Hands Of Glory. Although she spends most of her time on the road touring, I occasionally get the chance to catch up with Tift in New York City (her home-base)—as was the case during our Makeshift events.
Her album, Traveling Alone, is a source of constant creative inspiration to me. When we last spoke, Tift graciously agreed to create our playlist for August. Below, she shares some of her favorite songs.
AC: When did you start playing music?
TM: I started playing music as a little girl with my father. He taught me to play by ear and I loved listening to him, trying to sing with him, and seeing how happy music made him. I wanted to be a writer for as long as I could remember, so writing songs was a very natural way to bring many things I loved together.
“Where the Tennessee River, like a silver snake, winds her way through the red clay hills of Alabama, sits high on these hills my hometown, Florence.”
–W.C. Handy, Father of the Blues
We have written many times of our community’s rich musical legacy. The Shoals has a very notable place in modern music history; but, that history reaches much further back than many realize. William Christopher “W.C.” Handy was born and raised here in Florence in the late 19th century. Discovering a love of music at a young age, he took up the cornet and participated in acapella vocal lessons while attending grammar school. Later, after receiving his degree from the Teachers Agricultural and Mechanical College in Huntsville, Alabama, he became a teacher and briefly worked in a piping company before ultimately pursuing music as his true passion. His contributions in shaping the blues were influenced by the African-American musical folk traditions he experienced during his travels across the South, with “Memphis Blues” marking the beginning of his musical career.
For over 30 years, The Shoals community has hosted the W.C. Handy Music Festival. “Handy Fest,” as the locals call it, provides a few moments of unrivaled fun – in the middle of what can be a long, hot summer. Many of us anticipate the event all year and even the most confirmed homebodies spend multiple evenings out and about, listening to live music, visiting with friends, and exploring the community during festival week.
Doc Dailey is a longtime friend of Alabama Chanin and a talented musician making music right here in our community. He and his band mates weave together music that has a universal appeal, with the distinct flavor of Muscle Shoals. Below, he shares some of his favorite summertime pastimes and songs.
AC: When did you start playing music?
DD: Some of my earliest memories are of singing along to the radio and old 8-tracks; so, in a way, I’ve been playing around with music since I was a toddler. I started playing the saxophone in 5th grade and picked up the guitar and started writing songs in my teens.
In collaboration with Maxine Payne and contributor Phillip March Jones, Alabama Chanin has invited a number of artists, writers, musicians, chefs, and creatives to offer up their own interpretation of the Massengill photographs in a series of posts for our Journal. The posts give voice to the images of the sometimes anonymous figures that appear in the photographs. On the heels of John T. Edge’s essay, “My Life in Mobile Homes”, and Blair Hobbs’ poems, “Train-Track Hopscotch” and “Sweetheart”, musician Ben Sollee was inspired to compose a song in response to the “Three for a Dime” photographs.
We all have our chosen mentors: people who we look up to that influence us, for better or worse. They are cool-handed and know how to order drinks. From them, we learn things that are often too uncomfortable to learn from our parents. This song is dedicated to the language they speak.
Allison Moorer is a friend, fellow stitcher, and a songbird. While recently visiting with her in New York during Makeshift, she mentioned that “playing DJ” is one of her favorite things to do. So, when I asked if she would create a summer playlist for us, she happily agreed.
“Summertime makes me think of vacation or escaping, so I chose a “getting away” theme,” says Allison. “I hope you enjoy.”
Below you will find her playlist—which includes perfect “road tripping” songs from Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen, Tracy Chapman, and more. Roll down your windows and sing along.
Photo courtesy of Coleman Saunders.
I have been a fan of the lovely Tift Merritt ever since I first heard her 2002 debut album, Bramble Rose. Since then, I have been lucky enough to meet and work with Tift as part of our MAKESHIFT initiative. One of my heroes, Emmylou Harris, once said that Tift “stood out like a diamond in a coal patch,” and her thoughtful lyrics and melodies prove this to be true time and again.
In 2012, finding herself without a manager or a record deal, the North Carolina native did some soul searching to find out what kind of artist she really wanted to become and came face-to-face with self doubt. I’ve shared before how my own challenges led to moments of real breakthrough and commitment to doing good work – and the admission that no matter how seamless it may seem, the journey is not effortless. Tift told Pop Matters, “Being a good artist is not for the faint of heart…I think you have to ask questions that are scary to ask and you cannot apologize for that and you cannot worry what anyone else thinks about your journey.”
For April’s playlist, we’ve gathered some of our favorite songs to share with you. These artists are on constant rotation at the studio (and in the store and café), and serve as daily inspiration for us as we work.
We believe these musicians are producing beautiful work and we know you will love them as much as we do:
St. Paul & the Broken Bones – “Call Me”
A new favorite, from their recently released (debut) album, Half the City. (In case you aren’t familiar, St. Paul and The Broken Bones is a soulful band, recalling the sounds that put Muscle Shoals on the map.)
Pine Hill Haints – “How Much Poison Does It Take”
Alabama “ghost music,” from one of the longest-running bands of the Shoals.
Roseanne Cash – “A Feather’s Not a Bird”
The beautifully- composed opening song on Rosanne’s latest record, which follows her from Florence, Alabama, to Arkansas. In it, she sings of “going down to Florence, just to learn to love the thread.” Read more about Rosanne and The River and The Thread here.
Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit – “Alabama Pines”
This song by Shoals native Jason Isbell has become an unofficial Alabama anthem.
Lauderdale – “Dressed Like the Devil”
Southern rock with strong Americana influences, Lauderdale has been making music in the Shoals for nearly a decade.
Dylan LeBlanc – “If The Creek Don’t Rise”
Singer/songwriter Dylan LeBlanc collaborated with music legend Emmylou Harris on this beautifully haunting track.
In case you aren’t familiar, St. Paul and The Broken Bones is a band packed full of make-you-feel-good soul. Their recent single, “Call Me”, is on constant rotation here at the studio. Although based in Birmingham, Alabama, the group has ties to the Shoals – lead guitarist Browan Lollar is a Shoals native, and the band’s upcoming debut album, Half the City, was produced by Ben Tanner and is being released by Single Lock Records on February 18. The playlist below, curated by “St. Paul” himself, displays a playful knowledge and enjoyment of soul-rooted music.
Name: Paul Janeway
Band: St. Paul and The Broken Bones
Instrument(s) you play: Holler in a microphone
Hometown: Chelsea, AL
Presently residing: Birmingham, AL
AC: When did you start playing music?
PJ: When I was 4 years old, I started singing in church. I think my first song was “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands”. I started playing guitar as a freshman in high school. I am a pretty lousy guitar player though.
AC: What are some of your proudest moments as a musician (or in your life)?
PJ: The first time we sold out a show at Bottletree Café here in Birmingham was a great moment. Also, the time I sang at the Muscle Shoals documentary premiere up in Muscle Shoals. I got to sing “When A Man Loves a Woman” and Spooner Oldham was playing keys to my right. It doesn’t get much bigger than that in my book.
The Civil Rights Movement gained national attention in the early 1960s. The many protests, marches, and stands for equality were sustained by freedom songs and music from musicians-turned-activists. The setbacks, hardships, failures, and successes of the movement for racial equality can be told through song.
We curated a playlist highlighting some of the songs that delivered powerful messages during that time period, namely “We Shall Overcome,” an old African American hymn that gained popularity in the 1950s. The song became the unofficial anthem of the movement, bringing strength, support, and hope to activists—during protest marches, in the face of violence, and in jail cells.
Musician, author, and dear friend Rosanne Cash was born in Tennessee to a family soon to become Southern music royalty, but has lived for over 20 years in New York City. Still, her Southern heritage played and continues to play a role in shaping who she is as an artist, a traveler, and a citizen of the world. She deeply explores her relationship with the South and with Southern culture in her newest album, The River and the Thread. Listening to these songs, you hear a songwriter investigating how where she came from helped shape who she is today. The tracks are heartfelt, touching, and, by turns, rocking.
A sweet friend to Alabama Chanin, Rosanne curated a playlist for us that includes some of her favorite songs from and about the South. These songs capture the sometimes-elusive nature of our homeland and the people we call family. I’ve been cooking and dancing (and, yes, singing) to these tracks for a week…
Come sing along.
Photo of Rosanne courtesy of Clay Patrick McBride.