With cameos by U2’s Bono, The Rolling Stones’ Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, The Civil Wars’ John Paul White, Alicia Keys and more, the film highlights how Hall’s personal tragedies helped him create the “Muscle Shoals sound,” a nod to the styles associated with other music scenes like Motown, Nashville and Memphis.
FAME Studios is located alongside the Tennessee River, known as the “Singing River” to Native Americans, which inspired countless hits such as Wilson Pickett’s “Mustang Sally,” Percy Sledge’s “When a Man Loves a Woman,” Etta James’ “Tell Mama,” and The Rolling Stones’ “Wild Horses”. The humble surroundings in the small Alabama town helped to set the tone for a more laidback recording process, resulting in what many describe as a “funkier” sound than other big music centres like Los Angeles, New York, or even Nashville. Artists were able to roam the town unnoticed and more fully immerse themselves into the Southern way of life. Bono muses in the film that the river is noticeably influential on recordings: “It’s like the songs come from the mud.”
The film’s use of a mellow score and its gorgeous Alabama cinematography was reminiscent of AJ Schnack’s 2006 documentary, Kurt Cobain: About a Son. While it could have done well with a more solid chronological connection between the different eras of the studio, the emphasis on the civil rights movement and segregation laws of the 1960s, along with the studio’s sense of colour-blindness, set the tone well to put into context the magnitude of these hit recordings’ impact on American culture. The variety of genres covered in the film ensures that fans of all styles of music will appreciate what it has to say and keep their toes tapping throughout. Bolstered by soulful music, stunning shots of Alabama’s landscape and insightful reflections from legendary artists, Muscle Shoals is a must-see for even casual music lovers.