In the interest of forthrightness, yours truly spent some of the crappiest years of his life in the Shoals area of Alabama. A metal/punk kid coming up in the mid-‘80s had little chance of finding anything like a “group” of friends, hated my school, blah blah, the whole nine yards. So I dove headlong into books…and music. Thanks to an older skater my interest in truly different music was kindled and set to blaze, and a couple dudes who worked at the local record store became my rabbis, guiding me through a veritable Library Of Alexandria of music. All that to say, I know the “Muscle Shoals Sound” backwards, forwards, in, out and straight up the middle when I hear it. It’s a “sound”, sure, but it’s also a feeling.
AUSTIN WALKIN’ CANE’s Muscle Shoals isn’t so much an attempt to conjure that sound as paying respect to an undeniable legacy, so when ‘Waiting For A Little Sunshine’ begins and you think not of OTIS REDDING or THE ALLMAN BROTHERS but TOM RUSH due to the soft-shoe shuffle, almost ragtime solo guitar, don’t be surprised. Vocally CANE’s resonant baritone is untrained, very much of the front porch blues style. Not a field holler – a gravellier DEX ROMWEBER, yet not as gravebound as that of the much-missed MARK LANEGAN. ‘Living, Working, Dying’ keeps us on the porch, but we’re in Clarksdale, MS now. We’re not quite at the famed Crossroads, but we’re definitely in the neighborhood, Cane’s strings bouncing, strumming percussive in the style of Mr. Johnson, a bit of the jubilance of BIG BILL BROONZY, and here’s that field holler, trying to conjure the spirit of REV. GARY DAVIS, and coming a durn sight closer than not.
Down by the Tennessee River now, lazy Fridays on the riverbank in McFarland Park watching the sky painted in purples, reds and golds of evening coming on, ‘One Heart Walkin’’ has us sipping moonshine, a little smoke, reveling in the moment. A fittingly somber, mournful ‘Dark Was The Night, Cold Was The Ground’ and standard run-through of ‘Highway 61’ tumble us into ‘Sweet Mama Brown’, Cane’s voice dripping with honeyed lust, raucous and rollicking.
Drawing to a close, ‘Sun Go Down’ is plaintive, aching, the purge after the binge, and an ideal finish to an album that does, in fact, capture the essence of that Muscle Shoals feeling, distilled into one man with one guitar.
Review By: Lord Randall
AUSTIN WALKIN’ CANE