Singer-songwriter Amy Black’s fourth album, Memphis, released in June, is a heartfelt, exuberant exploration of that city’s magnificent soul, blues, and R&B legacy. But on it, Black also met a personal challenge, as she explains during a recent interview. “I spent a lot of time growing up in Sheffield, Ala.,” Black says. “I had always wanted to make a record at Muscle Shoals, and in preparation, I dived into the Muscle Shoals catalog. Memphis represents the logical extension of the journey we began with The Muscle Shoals (Sessions) album, but it was also reaffirmation I could explore and flesh out the soulful, bluesy side of my vocal personality.”
Memphis is often reminiscent of the famed Dusty In Memphis LP, and the late British songstress Dusty Springfield is an influence Black cites. It frames the powerful voice of a dynamic white female singer with cream of the crop black and white musicians possessing deep soul and blues ties. Three members of the legendary Hi Rhythm section (Rev. Charles Hodges on organ/piano, his brother Leroy “Flick” Hodges on bass, and Howard Grimes on drums) and onetime Stax guitarist Bobby Manuel joined Black during this stirring session produced and engineered by Grammy nominee and Emmy winner Scott Bomar, who also recruited guitarist Joe Restivo, as well as horn/string arranger Marc Franklin from his band The Bo-Keys.
“This album is gritty, it’s funky, it goes deeper inside in the vocals,” Black continues. “I mean, when you listen to people like Ann Peebles, Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland, Ruby Johnson, Otis Clay, and O.V. Wright, and those incredible Staples tunes with Mavis, it truly inspires you. I added “City In The Sky” to my live set to pay tribute to her.”
But aside from its marvelous covers, Memphis also contains some original jewels, notably the emphatic number “What Makes A Man,” cowritten with Nashville’s Karen Leipziger. It explodes with intensity via Black’s treatment. “Karen came to me with an idea where we were just talking about the fact that she had had such a good man in her life (the late saxophonist Dennis Taylor), and my husband was and is such a wonderful man,” Black explains. “The song flowed out of this conversation about what makes a good man. Of course, you could turn that around. It is really more about the whole question of commitment and love, and what makes someone special in your life.”
Black recently completed an exhaustive 26-date summer tour with a six-piece band, and is resting up in preparation for some upcoming Nashville dates. They include the Americana Honors & Awards show in September and a Music City Roots appearance in November.
When asked about her musical future, she’s quite philosophical. “I started my career very late,” Black says. “I didn’t get out on the road until I was 36. I had a corporate job, a highly paid one as a vice president of sales. But that wasn’t what I wanted to do, so I really decided to make that transition.
“Then I switched from folk/singer-songwriter material to soul and blues,” she continues. “That’s really the music I love now, though I enjoy the other songs as well. I told my husband when I started singing he needed to learn an instrument so we could save some money. He learned the drums well enough to be playing on tour next to the Hodges brothers. So I guess you really can’t track me by any traditional yardstick, but things have worked out pretty well.”