capturing that classic soul feel

The Muscle Shoals Sound (Rhino)
Various Artists

By Allen Howie

Unlike Detroit, Philadelphia or Memphis, the sound of tiny Muscle Shoals, Alabama, was less a style than a feel, the unerring ability of a handful of producers and session players to adapt to a variety of performers and styles, capturing some of those performers' finest moments.

The Muscle Shoals Sound offers 18 examples, including classics like Arthur Alexander's seminal "You Better Move On," Percy Sledge's titanic "When a Man Loves a Woman," Wilson Pickett's lurid "Mustang Sally," Arthur Conley's percolating "Sweet Soul Music" and Aretha's transcendent "I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)."

But the slightly lesser-known gems here hold their own against those monster hits: Etta James' brassy "Tell Mama," "Patches" and "Slip Away" by Clarence Carter, R.B. Greaves' spicy "Take a Letter Maria," and Mel and Tim's "Starting All Over Again," (written by Louisvillian Prince Phillip Mitchell) later a hit for Hall and Oates.

But my personal favorites are two songs that showcase both the artists and the Muscle Shoals musicians at their peaks. Pickett's majestic "Hey Jude," recorded at the urging of guitarist Duane Allman, who plays on the track, displaced the Beatles' own version on the pop charts. The other is the sublime "I'll Take You There" by the Staples Singers, as sweet and seductive a song as has ever been recorded.

Add in Rhino's typically thorough liner notes, and aficionados of soul music will find The Muscle Shoals Sound indispensable.