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.
Alabama Chanin friend and inspiration, Rosanne Cash, has lived in New York for over 20 years, but her link to the South remains deep and undeniable. Her mother, Vivian Liberto, was born in Texas and her father, Johnny Cash, was an Arkansas native. Rosanne was born in Memphis, Tennessee, and raised for much of her life in California. As a young woman, she also spent time living in Los Angeles, Nashville, London, among other stops on the road. Though she did not grow up in the South, her connection to the region is profound, largely because of what the South meant to her family and how that shaped her growth. It is this connection to the South and the region’s physical, musical, and emotional landscape that she explores in her newest record, The River and the Thread.
Rosanne found herself traveling southward frequently when Arkansas State University began restoring her father’s childhood home in Dyess, Arkansas. Knowing how much her father would have loved the project, Rosanne agreed to participate – which initiated a series of visits. As she traveled, she began to reconnect with the Southern sense of place, so essential to her family identity. She, along with husband and longtime collaborator, John Leventhal, began to shape and create an entire series of songs, all about the South. Rosanne said, “I started going back to where I was born and these songs started arriving in me. My heart got expanded to the South, to the people I had known, to the people I met… We started finding these stories, these great stories, and melodies that went with these experiences.”
Exploration of the extensive Dust-to-Digital catalog continues to reveal compilations that strongly resonate. We have previously written about the moving collections: I Listen to the Wind, Never a Pal Like Mother, Keeping a Record Of It, and Goodbye, Babylon.
Take Me to the Water: Immersion Baptism in Vintage Music and Photography 1890-1950 is a powerful collection that explores immersion baptism, an important component of many Southern religious traditions and religious culture worldwide.
At Alabama Chanin, we are proud of our home’s musical legacy. As we have written before, we are also proud to be surrounded by an impressive group of local, up-and-coming musicians. The Bear and Belle Adair are just two of a growing list of our favorite local bands.
Both bands have released records under local, indie label, Single Lock Records – founded by John Paul White of the Civil Wars, Ben Tanner of the Alabama Shakes, and Shoals native Will Trapp.
As seasons change and the holiday rush begins in full force, Christmas carols seem to appear earlier and earlier each year. Once upon a time, Thanksgiving was considered the unofficial date when radio stations began to play holiday music. This year, I heard my first Christmas carol when picking up Halloween candy at the grocery store.
But, regardless of whether you love or avoid holiday music, many of the seasonal songs have been around for hundreds of years. Some have social or political messages and many have a colorful history.
Musician and Alabama Chanin friend Jake Fussell grew up in Columbus, Georgia, and was exposed to traditional roots music while accompanying his father, folklorist and writer Fred Fussell, on numerous documentary fieldwork trips throughout the South. Through these journeys, Jake became a guitar student of the late Georgia blueswoman, Precious Bryant, and honed his skills playing with local string bands.
I was introduced to Jake and his music years ago by Butch, Maggie’s dad. A late night conversation was followed with a mixed CD, and since then Jake’s music has been in constant rotation on the Alabama Chanin studio playlists. His sound captures a unique aspect of the Southern voice and history – so much so that Jake played my one and only fashion show in New York in 2005.
Jake currently serves as bandleader of The Yalobushwackers, the house band for Thacker Mountain Radio, Oxford, Mississippi’s weekly live-audience literary radio program. In recent years, he has appeared on Prairie Home Companion, toured, and recorded as sideman for several musical acts, most notably as guitarist for Memphis gospel singer Reverend John Wilkins. Jake is also working with our friends at Dust-to-Digital to curate an anthology of Mississippi blues and gospel field recordings made by noted folklorist William R. Ferris.