Concept albums have been a staple of the recording industry for some time now, with the format of a theme or story line which binds all the music together allowing and artist to dig deeper into the songs and sometime deeper into themselves. Amy Black left behind her Boston stronghold and relocated to Tennessee to find her roots and for her fifth release she focused her creativity on the city she was conceived in, Memphis.
‘Memphis’ is more than a tribute or throwback album. It is a labor of love. Black teamed up with the Grammy-nominated, Emmy-winning producer and leader of the Bo-Keys, Scott Bomar. Together they recorded seven originals and three well-chosen covers (by Otis Clay, Bobby “Blue” Bland and Ruby Johnson), at Bomar’s Electraphonic Recording studio and mixed to tape by Adam Hill at Ardent Studios in downtown Memphis. The authenticity of the sound was further bonified by enlisting the talents of local legends and session musicians who created it at Stax and Hi Records.
The house band included Hi Records rhythm section drummer Howard Grimes, and the Rev. Charles Hodges (piano and Hammond B3) and his brother, Leroy “Flick” Hodges (bass), along with Stax guitarist Bobby Manuel on many of the tracks. As well as the Bo-Key’s Joe Restivo on guitar and horn and string arrangements by Marc Franklin (the Bo-Keys and Gregg Allman Band).
Black is an accomplished powerhouse soul singer, but on ‘Memphis’ her songwriting skills take center stage. The album opens with her smoldering R&B tale of hard fought love she dedicates to Bobby “Blue” Bland, “It’s So Hard To Love An Angry Man,” setting the stage for the ‘Memphis’ revue with smoking horn blasts, tasty Hammond B3, gritty leads and dramatic vocals. The groove stays in forward motion as Black sings of her heartache while the band bumps to the rhythm of “The Blackest Cloud,” then downshifts into the sweet introspective gentle sway of “Without You.” The first cover song of the album is the poignant plea for world peace “If I Could Reach Out and Help Somebody,” that lovingly recreates the vibe of the original 1973 Hi Records production including real strings over top a fat rhythm section. Black stretches her vocal muscle on the slow gospel blues “Let The Light In,” then pays tribute to Anne Peebles with the chicken pickin’ funk “What Makes A Man.” The acoustic based lament “Nineteen,” spells out the dark contrast of the teenage experience of the 1960’s, as many were living in the summer of love and a soul music revolution, while others were being sent to the terror that was Vietnam.
Black delivers an indulgent cover of “Further On Up The Road,” filling the classic Texas blues shuffle with big horns, keys and hot licks, creating her dream band scenario. The final original is the upbeat horn driven “We Got A Good thing,” formatted in the patented Memphis soul style. Black closes the show with the oft recorded dramatic slow blues “I Need Your Love So Bad,” fashioning her version on the 1965 Stax recording made my Ruby Johnson backed by Booker T and the Mg’s with the Memphis Horns, who created the blue print for her to follow on this quest to recreate the Memphis sound and forward the artform she dearly loves.