There may not be any better showcases at this year’s AmericanaFest than last night’s Muscle Shoals Party at 3rd & Lindsley. The night was a tribute to FAME founder Rick Hall, who died in January of this year. His son, Rodney, put together a killer show of the “new” FAME gang, younger players who keep the groove moving in the famed Alabama studio where Arthur Alexander, Aretha Franklin, Candi Staton, Wilson Pickett, Clarence Carter, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and so many others recorded their albums. The night also celebrated a new album, produced by Hall, featuring many of these singers and songs.
The band, led by guitarist James LeBlanc, whose smoking version of the blues classic “Leave My Little Girl Alone” delivered a smoother, more heart-wrenching vibe than Stevie Ray Vaughan’s take on the song, hit its stride early, providing the churning, funky, tender, and tough foundation for a lineup of singers who do the Shoals proud. Holli Mosley stepped up and belted out a soaring take on “I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You.” She inhabited the song deeply and caught the phrasing perfectly.
Amanda Shires, and a guitarist that she introduced as Mr. Shires, took the stage with Peter Levin, who played B3 with Gregg Allman, and the three sang a devastatingly beautiful version of “Single Again.” The band joined them on a haunting “Midnight Rider.” Mike Farris, whose new album just hit, raised the roof with his gospel-inflected rock vocals. He opened his set with a no-heart-untouched version of “I’d Rather Go Blind.”
The night belonged to Eli “Paperboy” Reed, whom Farris called the “funkiest Jewish white boy” I’ve ever heard. Farris jokingly complained about having to follow Reed’s raise-the-roof performance. Reed funked it up with a couple of deep tracks, including “Scratch My Back” and Carter’s “Snatching It Back,” and by the end of his set, the entire room had been saved. There are few words to describe the ways Reed gets inside a song and takes it into the stratosphere with his transcendent vocal gifts. The night could have ended after his set, but the entire group came out and joined voices on “With a Little Help from My Friends” and “Hey Jude.”
The band and singers tore it up, and, like James Brown, left it all on the stage. If last night’s high energy performances are any indication, FAME is in good hands.