Ben Sollee recording in the Mosquito Hut. Prospect, Kentucky. 2013. Photo:PMJ
Ben Sollee spent a few days this past summer trying to capture the songs and sounds that influence his life and music. The makeshift recording studio, a small house nestled in a hollow near Prospect, Kentucky, provided the backdrop for the project, a covers record, including songs by Arthur Russell, Otis Redding, Paul Simon, Harry Belafonte, The Zombies, Howard Finster, Bill Monroe, Fiona Apple, Tom Waits, and Gillian Welch. Screened porches, hallways, decks, and living rooms lend their own particular character to the recordings, and the hollow’s voice can be heard throughout: bugs chirp, birds whistle, water flows, and the wind blows. More collaborators than background, the house and hollow provide the listener with a rich audial scenery and shape Sollee’s voice and cello as he seeks to capture his own versions of the songs that have shaped his development as a musician and songwriter.
The Mosquito Hut. Prospect, Kentucky. 2013. Photo: PMJ
Friend and native son Ben Tanner grew up in the Shoals. He graduated from Muscle Shoals High School, and after a few years living in Memphis, Tennessee, and Paris, France, returned to the area to work at FAME Studios with the hope of gaining some valuable experience. That stint was supposed to be a “brief stopover.” But, he says, “I found a really amazing and diverse community of musicians working here, so I’ve stayed.”
An accomplished musician and producer, Ben is also a founding partner in Single Lock Records, a new, local record label focused on helping musicians make better records without going broke. He spends much of his time playing keyboards as part of the Alabama Shakes, though he does play some guitar and bass. “Most things with strings I can pick on a little bit (excluding bowed instruments),” he says.
“Playing and recording music is hard work, and I’m often very hard on myself, but I have brief, occasional moments where I’m consciously aware that I’m a part of making something beautiful that wasn’t there before. Those moments are ecstatic and rare, but they keep me going.”
The playlist below, curated by Ben Tanner, has a “weird South” theme, meaning, it’s Southern music that doesn’t exactly fit the mold of stereotypical “Southern.” He also worked on two tracks on this list with local bands, The Bear and Doc Dailey and Magnolia Devil.
Yesterday, we shared a post by contributor Phillip March Jones on self-taught musician, song writer, and artist Lonnie Holley. Holley’s second album, Keeping A Record of It, was just released by the Dust-to-Digital label in Atlanta, Georgia. Find more information on the Dust-to-Digital site.
Keeping a Record of It (Harmful Music), 1986, Lonnie Holley, Salvaged phonograph top, phonograph record, animal skull 13 3/4 x 15 3/4 x 9 inches, Courtesy of the Souls Grown Deep Foundation. Photo: Steve Pitkin
Lonnie Holley, at the age of 63, is finally getting his proverbial moment in the sun. The artist’s second album, Keeping A Record of It, was released today by Atlanta’s Dust-to-Digital label, and he is currently touring the US with Deerhunter and Bill Callahan. Earlier this year Holley performed at the Whitney Museum of American Art during the Blues for Smoke exhibition, and a solo-exhibition of his visual work is scheduled to open at the James Fuentes Gallery on September 15 in New York. Holley’s life has not, however, always been this glamorous.
Lonnie Bradley Holley was born on February 10, 1950 in Birmingham, Alabama. From the age of 5, Holley worked various jobs, picking up trash at a drive-in movie theatre, washing dishes, and cooking. He lived in a whiskey house, on the state-fair grounds, and in several foster homes. His early life was chaotic and Holley was never afforded the pleasure of a real childhood.
Holley performing at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY. Photo: Matt Arnett
Those of us of a certain age remember the ubiquitous mix tape. We made them for our best girlfriends on their birthdays, for boys and girls we crushed on, and for our younger siblings, bringing them into the fold of “cool.” We received them much in the same way, personally curated with a clear directive: a road trip, an anti-algebra protest (for those of us not good with numbers), a condolence for a loss or break-up. We crafted the paper insert covers in collage cut from magazines or newspapers, or colored them over in crayon and markers. The mix tape might be one of the purest expressions of feeling a person can share. Melody plus lyrics plus artwork (or no artwork) demonstrated time spent consciously collecting something so essential to life: music.
Mix Tape: The Art of Cassette Culture, edited by Thurston Moore of the band Sonic Youth, is a look into the practice and craft of the mix tape, with essays from a long list of contributors including photographers, writers, poets, visual artists, designers, and many musicians, each recalling a specific mix tape that held, and still holds, meaning in their post-cassette lives. Today, many of us stream much of the music we listen to. The playlist has replaced the mix tape (or the mix CD). It’s hard to imagine that record companies protested the invention of the recordable cassette, which we bought in droves. They feared revenue loss and called it piracy. It’s amazing how that control has changed in the years since, how the battle to maintain control of the industry has weighed heavily in favor of the consumer (and pirate), and how musicians have taken up the battle to defend their own art, often breaking from traditional paths to establish their own labels or sign with smaller, independent labels, like Florence, Alabama’s Single Lock Records (where we first learned about this book).
The Local Playlist is a new feature on the Alabama Chanin Journal. There’s a rich musical history – and presence – in our community, which you’ve likely read about before. So, we thought, instead of just telling you how great the music is, we’d give you a chance to listen. We’ll share a new playlist every month, each from a different contributor, containing tracks from Shoals musicians and the musicians who influence and inspire them.
A few weeks ago we wrote about local singer/songwriter Louisa (Amber) Murray and her band, The Bear. Amber talked to us about songwriting, shared some inspiration that feeds her creative side, and now she’s sharing some of the music that inspires her to keep singing.
Thank you, Amber, for compiling this rainy day list of female singers for us to enjoy.
Louisa Murray is the face of one of our favorite local bands, The Bear. She shares the stage with her husband, Nathan Pitts, each of them writing and performing their own respective songs, and the two are backed by a talented band. Their newest album, Overseas Then Under was produced by local indie label, Single Lock Records, co-founded by Ben Tanner, who plays keyboards for The Bear, as well as for Alabama Shakes.
We’ve written about our friend Phillip March Jones on our journal before – we carry his newest publication, Points of Departure, in our online store. Institute 193 in Lexington, Kentucky, is his gallery, a music venue, and multi-faceted publisher, which recently released a compilation of recordings from artists who have performed in the space. Phillip joins us as a contributor to the journal, with an introduction to 193 SOUND.
Sound is a mechanical wave that is an oscillation of pressure transmitted through a solid, liquid, or gas, composed of frequencies within the range of hearing. 193 SOUND is a collection of musical sounds: continuous, regular, and in this case, site-specific vibrations that tell the story of our small space, Institute 193, in Lexington, Kentucky. This compilation records the artists, performers, musicians, and general sound-makers who have emitted, transmitted, and radiated their own SOUNDS from within our walls and that now travel into your range of hearing.
Institute 193, a project I began in October 2009, is a non-profit contemporary art space and publisher that collaborates with artists, musicians, and writers to document the cultural production of the modern South. We produce exhibitions, books, and records with the goal of unearthing significant ideas from the region and sharing them with the world. Institute 193 engages and directs, steering and shaping projects into reality without sanitizing the vision of the artist.
Newsletter #5 showcases our newest addition to our collection of workshops: the Studio Week. The first session is scheduled for November 2013. Also, our Father’s Day Gift Guide offers a selection of items specifically for Dad.
Read about Single Lock Records, a local indie record label in our community and browse our Library + Gifts for books on innovative business models from Zingerman’s Community of Businesses, based in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
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xoNatalie and all of us @ Alabama Chanin
The music industry as we once knew it has been forced to evolve rapidly in recent years, as technology has grown faster than established business models. Major record labels struggle to maintain control of the radio waves, music sales, artist development, and our ears; meanwhile, established artists like Radiohead and Beck have embraced the Internet, a one-time enemy to record sales, by offering their work at pay-what-you-want prices, or occasionally for free. Other artists, like Jack White with Third Man Records, have taken control of the entire creative process by starting their own indie record labels, effectively surpassing the gatekeepers of yesterday.
Ben Tanner of Alabama Shakes and The Bear, John Paul White of the Civil Wars (DIY band of 2012), and financial advisor, Shoals native, and friend Will Trapp, are bringing some of that anti-Old Guard attitude to our community with their indie label, Single Lock Records. The Shoals has a rich music history, thanks to Rick Hall, Muscle Shoals Sound, and many others who helped establish the recording industry here during the 1960’s and 70’s. Hall’s FAME Studios, with its talented roster of studio musicians, attracted diverse recording artists, including Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, Cher, Paul Simon, and even the Osmonds. Some of these artists created their best work here. Later, Muscle Shoals Sound opened, recording the Rolling Stones, Traffic, and Bob Dylan, among many others. These days, the music flows OUT of the Shoals, not INTO it.