This set is like time travel – soulful singer-songwriter Vance recording in Alabama's iconic FAME studios, where the late Rick Hall masterminded some of the greatest sounds of the ‘sixties. It is a fine match.



Label: Gingerbread man
Time:  10 tracks / 37 mins

After an exhausting run of constant touring, Foy Vance booked himself a spell of normalising 9-5 studio time creating new songs, and part of that process was digging out all the unused ideas that he had collected over years.

He found two piles, labelled ‘soul’ and ‘Americana’ respectively. They have become two collections, released within three months of each other: “From Muscle Shoals” and “To Memphis.”

Here we get the present meeting the past: soulful singer-songwriter Vance recording a batch of his ‘soul’ songs in Alabama's iconic FAME studios, where the late Rick Hall masterminded some of the greatest sounds of the ‘sixties.

(Those who took up my recommendation of the DVD of the Muscle Shoals story will remember how Aretha Franklin went to record with Hall, only managed one song before her husband flew her out after a bust up, but that song was the career-defining “Respect”).

So, given Vance’s gritty, impassioned vocals and a soul sensibility from his days growing up in the States, this feels like a coming home, or a meeting-your-destiny type of release.

It certainly works. This is timeless. Whether it is original studio bassist David Hood’s lines on “You Love are my Only” and “Hard Work” (which has a beautifully understated organ break that sets off the vocals deliciously) or the yearning vocals set against brass and staccato guitar on the wonderful “Sunshine or Rain” (with legend Spooner Oldham on keys) this could have been recorded at anytime over the last fifty years.

Not that there is any intrinsic virtue in that; some people live in the past and plenty of bands have tried to copy the sound. But this is simply a natural pairing and for me, it works a treat. The slow, bluesy “Pain Never Hurt Me Like Love” is a terrific song, perfectly executed and is better than some songs the studio made in its heyday. Put “Be with Me” on straight after “Mustang Sally” and no one should leave a dance floor.

On top of that, we now get today’s technology making the sound so crisp that it really is the best of both worlds.

There is the odd personal niggle – the title line from “You Love are My Only,” especially the backing singers’ part, seems overlong, and sometimes his singing is so stylised that you want a bit more clarity – but that should take nothing away from either the quality of the songs or their suitedness to the Muscle Shoals sound.

And then you get tracks like the yearning “I’m Coming Over,” which not only has a soulful vocal backing, but the added richness of a smooth horns section.

Vance’s site says that he was commissioned to write one of these for Tom Jones, asking whether we can guess which one it is**. You can imagine Jones singing so many of these, and that says something about the emotion, singability and power inside these songs.

Derek Walker

** My guesses in order: Good Time Southern Soul / Sunshine or Rain / Be With Me / Moving On