Tag Archives: Music



Recently, we were honored to have longtime friend Rosanne Cash approach us to collaborate on a special project. She worked with Bldg. 14 to print and produce t-shirts dedicated to her album, “The River and the Thread.” As you know, Alabama Chanin has a special relationship with this record and its message. Rosanne has served as a source of inspiration for our design team and we are once again inspired to be working with her. The shirts feature a screen-printed design of her album artwork and will be sold both at Rosanne’s concerts and at Alabama Chanin’s online and Factory store.


Proceeds from the sale of this shirt will be donated to Equal Justice Initiative, a Montgomery-based organization led by Bryan Stevenson that focuses on racial justice, children in prison, mass incarceration, and the death penalty. They recently opened the National Memorial for Peace and Justice which memorializes lynching and racial terror in America. Rosanne chose this organization because she wanted to focus on affecting change in our region.

Rosanne was recently awarded the “Spirit of Americana” Free Speech Award by the Americana Music Association, in partnership with the First Amendment Center. In her speech, she—as she always does—spoke her mind about issues she felt were of urgency at the moment. Those things included the Music Modernization Act that would secure fair compensation for musicians. She spoke to the status of women today, saying, “Women are not small, inferior versions of men. We are not objects or property. We have unique gifts to offer and if you discount us, the whole world tilts on an unnatural axis. We deserve respect and every kind of consideration given to men, including equal representation in government and equal pay.”


She also addressed a topic dear to her heart and one that she has been outspoken about: gun control. “I believe with all my heart that a single child’s life is greater, more precious, and more deserving of the protection of this nation and of the adults in this room than the right to own a personal arsenal of military-style weapons. The killing of children in schools should not be collateral damage for the 2nd amendment. There is no amendment that is absolute and not subject to revision. We must re-order our priorities and protect our children.”

Rosanne would like to remind everyone in America to VOTE in the upcoming elections, as would our team at Alabama Chanin.

We look forward to any future collaborations with Rosanne and are honored to join with her on this project.


John Paul White spent years of his life on the road. Formerly one-half of the prolific duo The Civil Wars, it was not unusual for him to spend 300-plus days a year on tour. Once that project came to an end, White returned home to Florence and began a period of centering himself, settling in as a father and a husband—and eventually as a producer and owner of a record label. He told Paste Magazine, “I made a conscious decision to focus every bit of my energy on being a good dad, a good husband, and that segued into becoming a label partner and a studio owner. So everything has kind of been me, following my nose, but me paying close attention to what was within 20 yards of me, me pulling in the reins and staying connected to what’s within arm’s length.”

John Paul and his partners Ben Tanner and Will Trapp of Single Lock Records have spent the last few years focusing on helping less established artists find a foothold in the music industry. He and Tanner built a recording studio in White’s back yard, and John Paul has been one of the most prominent voices speaking out for and supporting artists in our community. But, he has done all of this with the understanding that being present for his family is his priority. It’s been quite a while since John Paul White has considered re-entering the world of writing and recording his own music… And yet, here we are.


John Paul says that he initially resisted the urge to go back to songwriting, even as songs began to come to him—uninvited. He did not want to be pulled away from his family and this time and this place, but the songs kept finding him. “Songs that a lot of me tried not to write,” he said. “Songs that wouldn’t leave me alone. Songs that moved me enough to want to share them.”

“Honestly, I tried to avoid them, but then I realized the only way I was going to get rid of them was if I wrote them down. I got my phone out and I’d sing these little bits of melody, then put it away and move on. But eventually I got to a place where it was a roar in my head, and that pissed me off.” Due to his experiences as a gun-for-hire in Nashville, White was reluctant to romanticize the creative process, to turn it into a spiritual pursuit. “Then one day I told my wife I think I’m going to go write a song. She was as surprised as I was. I went and wrote probably eight songs in three days. It was like turning on a faucet.”


The songs on Beulah range from folk to country, to 90s-influenced rock. You can hear The Secret Sisters’ beautiful harmonies on songs like “I’ve Been Over This Before”, and White’s familiar acoustic sound emerges in songs like “Hate the Way You Love Me.” But it’s hard not to immediately gravitate toward “What’s So”, a hard-driving song that reveals both his Southern background and his love for swampy rock and roll.

White says that “Beulah” is a term of endearment in his family, comparable to calling someone “Honey”. It’s what his father called White’s little sister, and it’s what John Paul calls his own daughter. But it’s hard not to also see connections to the Beulah of poet William Blake—a place in the subconscious—not quite heaven, but the source of inspiration and dreams. John Paul White seems to agree. “[Blake’s] Beulah was a place you could go in your dreams. You could go there in meditation, to relax and heal and center yourself. It wasn’t a place you could stay, but you came back to the world a better place.”


Listening to Beulah, you are transported to another place—sometimes familiar, other times unkind and uncomfortable, but you always return home changed, and for the better.

Grab a copy of Beulah for yourself here. And listen to “What’s So” from Beulah, by John Paul White below:

Photos from Single Lock Records and Allister Ann.


Earlier this year, we caught up with Single Lock records and observed how they have grown in the short time since the label was founded. Since our very first meeting, the label has more than doubled its roster and continues to be a resource, helping artists grow in a way that best suits the artist’s vision.

Each quarter, we are featuring different Single Lock artists in our online store; this quarter we are highlighting veteran musician Donnie Fritts and the newest addition to the Single Lock artist roster, Penny & Sparrow.


Donnie Fritts is a Florence, Alabama, native and a well-respected songwriter who has penned hits like “We Had It All” (recorded by such artists as Waylon Jennings, Ray Charles, the Rolling Stones, Tina Turner, and Willie Nelson) and “Breakfast in Bed”, which he co-wrote with Eddie Hinton for Dusty Springfield. In the 60s, 70s, and 80s, his songs were recorded by artists like Charlie Rich, Jerry Lee Lewis, the Box Tops, and Ronnie Milsap. Donnie also became an actor and spent 20 years as keyboardist for Kris Kristofferson, where he became known as “Funky” Donnie Fritts.

He recorded the critically praised Oh My Goodness on the Single Lock label, produced by John Paul White. The record features a host of Alabama stars, all on board to pay tribute to Fritts: Alabama Shakes members Brittany Howard and Ben Tanner (co-owner of Single Lock Records), Jason Isbell, The Secret Sisters, Dylan LeBlanc, St. Paul and the Broken Bones horn players Ben Griner and Allen Bransetter and longtime friends and music legends David Hood, Spooner Oldham, and John Prine.

On Oh My Goodness, Fritts’ voice is a weathered instrument, but one that conveys emotion with unexpected tenderness. The music is more polished and spare than in previous records and showcases the songwriting that he is so well known for. “This album means so much to me,” Donnie says. “I thought I wouldn’t get another shot. It’s the most personal and important album to me. It’s one of the most special things I ever got to do in my life.”


Singer-songwriter duo Penny & Sparrow, out of Austin, Texas, began making music together in 2010, when they were roommates at the University of Texas in Austin. Andy Baxter and Kyle Jahnke built their reputation for honest, unadorned acoustic music over years of touring. Let a Lover Drown You is their third full-length album, produced by John Paul White and Ben Tanner. The record is hauntingly beautiful and melancholic and marries their characteristic minimalist sound with White and Tanner’s richer arrangements.

Their music is clearly influenced by artists like Simon and Garfunkel, Swell Season, Bon Iver, and even some Broadway composers. (Baxter is so inspired by the musical Les Miserables that each record contains an homage; in Let a Lover Drown You, the closing song is titled “Eponine”, after the iconic character.) Their well-paired harmonies and thoughtful lyrics make it clear why the duo has a fervent touring fan base. This record features both White and Tanner—and bass player David Hood (of the legendary “Swampers”) makes several appearances.

Penny & Sparrow are currently featured on NPR Music’s annual “Austin 100” list, spotlighting their favorite artists for each year’s SXSW Music Conference. Let a Lover Drown You was just released on March 11. Look for Penny & Sparrow, currently on tour (hopefully) in a city near you.

Photos courtesy of Single Lock Records

Cover of Never A Pal Like Mother: Vintage Songs and Photographs of the One Who's Always True


Dust-to-to-Digital is a unique recording company that serves to combine rare recordings with historical images and descriptive texts, resulting in cultural artifacts. We have previously written about several of their collections that resonate so well with our brand. We believe in preserving traditions, and Dust-to-Digital truly speaks to that with their historically rich albums. We revisit one of their books, Never A Pal Like Mother: Vintage Songs & Photographs of the One Who’s Always True, for Mother’s Day.

Photograph from Never A Pal Like Mother with the caption, "she was the first to ever love me".

Compiled by April and Lance Ledbetter, founders of the Dust-to-Digital label, the 96-page hardcover book features vintage black and white and sepia-toned images of mothers and their children interspersed with poignant lines from popular commercial recordings of the early twentieth century, each one dedicated to Mom. An essay by Sarah Bryan accompanies two CDs of 40 recordings from 1927 to 1956. The forward is written by friend, mother, Alabama Chanin ambassador, and master lyricist Rosanne Cash.

From Rosanne’s essay and the Dust-to-Digital site:

“We can feel our American past here: how we lived, how hard we worked, how we were a nation of travelers and wanderers, how we held fast to our faith, how great our losses were, how quickly death came, and how often our mothers were the rock and the lighthouse, the home inside our hearts. These songs could never be written in the age of jet travel, therapy, delayed adolescence, the internet, nor could they survive current popular ideas of human psychology. They are pristine and deeply wrought sonic images, unfiltered through modern expectations, and are all the more refreshing and thrilling for being so. Those of us who treasure American roots music are listening to the very center of its essence in this anthology: a nearly century-old collection of songs about the most important person in the entire lexicon.” — Rosanne Cash, from the introduction to Never a Pal Like Mother

The book itself, contents notwithstanding, has the beauty of a treasure chest, the CDs tucked neatly inside pockets on the front and back covers. The back cover displays the song list in a vintage inspired typeface that invokes the memory of an old record, perhaps one played on a phonograph of one the mothers depicted within the pages. Any mother would be proud to count this album among her library of cherished tomes (while ballads celebrating her heroism play in the background).

Old photographs of families from Never A Pal Like Mother.


A little musical (and visual) interlude for this cold and snowy Friday—listen to this newly released track from one of our studio favorites, Alabama Shakes. Along with a beautiful video designed by Mario Hugo—half of our husband and wife, New York-based design and web team, Hugo + Marie.


Here at Alabama Chanin, we continue to be drawn to the distinct and historical Dust-to-Digital catalog. Dust-to-Digital is a unique recording company that serves to combine rare recordings with historical images and descriptive texts, resulting in cultural artifacts. We have previously written about several of their collections that resonate so well with our brand. We believe in preserving traditions, and Dust-to-Digital truly speaks to that with their historically rich albums.

I Belong to this Band: 85 Years of Sacred Harp Recordings is a moving glimpse into the history of Sacred Harp singing and its deep Southern ties. Compiled by Matt Hinton and Lance Ledbetter, this CD features 30 recordings as varied as the earliest recordings of the genre from the 1920s, 30s and 40s. It also includes a pleasant mix of home recordings made by small groups of singers in the 1950s as well as contemporary recordings of all-day singings.


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The music that flows through our community is nothing short of amazing. I’ve written many times about the rich musical history of The Shoals area—and I’m proud of all the up and coming artists, producers, and managers that strive to create great music in our hometown (including members of the Alabama Chanin staff).

Our graphic designer, Maggie, and her husband, Daniel, are gaining attention with their new rock ‘n roll band Daniel Elias + Exotic Dangers. Below, they share how they got involved with music, along with some of their favorite songs.

Name(s): Daniel and Maggie Crisler
Band: Daniel Elias + Exotic Dangers
Instrument(s) you play: Daniel – guitar, harmonica, vocals; Maggie – electric organ and percussion
Hometown: Daniel – Florence, AL; Maggie – Sheffield, AL
Presently residing: Florence, AL

AC: When did you start playing music?

DC: I remember my pop first teaching me a couple of chords on the guitar around age eight. I learned the piano, as well. The Blues was and is my first musical love, so that’s what I learned, forming the foundation for everything I play—no matter what the style is. I played (and still do) in the church band for many years before writing my first song or playing my first rock ‘n roll show.

MC: I’ve always loved music. When I was growing up, I heard a lot of Motown and classic rock because that’s what my parents listened to. I started playing piano when I was six and took lessons for about ten years. In that ten years, I also learned to play violin, clarinet, and bass guitar. I picked up the keys again when Daniel bought me a vintage Farfisa organ and asked me to play with him in a new project (which developed into this band).

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Nashville-based duo Great Peacock, formed by Alabama native Blount Floyd and Mississippi-born Andrew Nelson, combine rock and roll guitars with country influences and a heavy dose of harmony. The result is what Nelson calls “pop, with folk tendencies.” In the past year, they have tackled a heavy touring schedule, making appearances on Paste’s South by Southwest stage, PBS’ Bluegrass Underground, and Music City Roots. Blount put together this playlist, inspired by the hours spent in their touring van and it includes some of their most listened-to songs. He laughed, “These are some of the songs we jam out to while chasing the rock-and-roll dragon.”

Name(s): Blount Floyd and Andrew Nelson
Band: Great Peacock
Instrument(s) you play: BF – vocals, acoustic git-fiddle, keyboard, drums and percussion; AN – vocals and guitar
Place of Birth/Hometowns: BF – Dothan, Alabama; AN – Floewood, Mississippi
Presently residing: Nashville, Tennessee

AC: When did you start playing music?

AN: I started playing when I was about 15.
BF: I started playing fiddle around age 10 and my parents have some horrible home videos of me wearing a Garth Brooks-style western shirt, squeaking away something awful. I started playing guitar around the 8th grade.

AC: What are some of your proudest moments as a musician (or in your life)?

BF: Playing Bluegrass Underground was a pretty surreal experience.
AN: Every time I write a new song that won’t get out of my head. There’s the same excitement and pride that follows every time. It’s the ultimate drug.

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In December of 2012, songwriter and musician Beck released an “album” called Song Reader that challenged modern recording industry standards and the traditional definition of what an album should be. With Song Reader Beck took a unique approach by releasing 20 songs in sheet music format and asking artists to interpret and record them as they saw fit.

The concept is – at its core – a DIY approach to songwriting and an invitation to other artists to participate in a collective music-making experience. We view the approach as very much aligned with our embrace of open sourcing. All art is interpreted through the lens of the viewer or listener; this takes things a step further by inviting the audience to actively interpret the art.

Beck seemed excited about the possibilities and told McSweeney’s, “I thought a lot about making these songs playable and approachable, but still musically interesting. I think some of the best covers will reimagine the chord structure, take liberties with the melodies, the phrasing, even the lyrics themselves. There are no rules in interpretation.”

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I’ve written many times about my friend and multi-talented musician Tift Merritt. She is a singer/songwriter, guitarist, pianist, and creative spirit. Her podcast The Spark with Tift Merritt is a conversation about integrity and process, and features some of the most creative minds of our age, including Rosanne Cash, Andrew Bird, and Kiki Smith (among others). In addition to managing her solo career, Tift occasionally plays with Andrew Bird and the Hands Of Glory. Although she spends most of her time on the road touring, I occasionally get the chance to catch up with Tift in New York City (her home-base)—as was the case during our Makeshift events.

Her album, Traveling Alone, is a source of constant creative inspiration to me. When we last spoke, Tift graciously agreed to create our playlist for August.  Below, she shares some of her favorite songs.

AC: When did you start playing music?

TM: I started playing music as a little girl with my father.  He taught me to play by ear and I loved listening to him, trying to sing with him, and seeing how happy music made him. I wanted to be a writer for as long as I could remember, so writing songs was a very natural way to bring many things I loved together.

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“Where the Tennessee River, like a silver snake, winds her way through the red clay hills of Alabama, sits high on these hills my hometown, Florence.”–W.C. Handy, Father of the Blues

We have written many times of our community’s rich musical legacy. The Shoals has a very notable place in modern music history; but, that history reaches much further back than many realize. William Christopher “W.C.” Handy was born and raised here in Florence in the late 19th century. Discovering a love of music at a young age, he took up the cornet and participated in a cappella vocal lessons while attending grammar school. Later, after receiving his degree from the Teachers Agricultural and Mechanical College in Huntsville, Alabama, he became a teacher and briefly worked in a piping company before ultimately pursuing music as his true passion. His contributions in shaping the blues were influenced by the African-American musical folk traditions he experienced during his travels across the South, with “Memphis Blues” marking the beginning of his musical career.

For over 30 years, The Shoals community has hosted the W.C. Handy Music Festival. “Handy Fest,” as the locals call it, provides a few moments of unrivaled fun – in the middle of what can be a long, hot summer. Many of us anticipate the event all year and even the most confirmed homebodies spend multiple evenings out and about, listening to live music, visiting with friends, and exploring the community during festival week.

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Doc Dailey is a longtime friend of Alabama Chanin and a talented musician making music right here in our community. He and his band mates weave together music that has a universal appeal, with the distinct flavor of Muscle Shoals. Below, he shares some of his favorite summertime pastimes and songs.

AC: When did you start playing music?

DD: Some of my earliest memories are of singing along to the radio and old 8-tracks; so, in a way, I’ve been playing around with music since I was a toddler. I started playing the saxophone in 5th grade and picked up the guitar and started writing songs in my teens.

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In collaboration with Maxine Payne and contributor Phillip March Jones, Alabama Chanin has invited a number of artists, writers, musicians, chefs, and creatives to offer up their own interpretation of the Massengill photographs in a series of posts for our Journal.  The posts give voice to the images of the sometimes anonymous figures that appear in the photographs. On the heels of John T. Edge’s essay, “My Life in Mobile Homes”, and Blair Hobbs’ poems, “Train-Track Hopscotch” and “Sweetheart”, musician Ben Sollee was inspired to compose a song in response to the “Three for a Dime” photographs.

From Ben:

We all have our chosen mentors: people who we look up to that influence us, for better or worse. They are cool-handed and know how to order drinks. From them, we learn things that are often too uncomfortable to learn from our parents. This song is dedicated to the language they speak.

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Allison Moorer is a friend, fellow stitcher, and a songbird. While recently visiting with her in New York during Makeshift, she mentioned that “playing DJ” is one of her favorite things to do. So, when I asked if she would create a summer playlist for us, she happily agreed.

“Summertime makes me think of vacation or escaping, so I chose a “getting away” theme,” says Allison. “I hope you enjoy.”

Below you will find her playlist—which includes perfect “road tripping” songs from Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen, Tracy Chapman, and more. Roll down your windows and sing along.

Photo courtesy of Coleman Saunders.


I have been a fan of the lovely Tift Merritt ever since I first heard her 2002 debut album, Bramble Rose. Since then, I have been lucky enough to meet and work with Tift as part of our MAKESHIFT initiative. One of my heroes, Emmylou Harris, once said that Tift “stood out like a diamond in a coal patch,” and her thoughtful lyrics and melodies prove this to be true time and again.

In 2012, finding herself without a manager or a record deal, the North Carolina native did some soul searching to find out what kind of artist she really wanted to become and came face-to-face with self doubt. I’ve shared before how my own challenges led to moments of real breakthrough and commitment to doing good work – and the admission that no matter how seamless it may seem, the journey is not effortless. Tift told Pop Matters, “Being a good artist is not for the faint of heart…I think you have to ask questions that are scary to ask and you cannot apologize for that and you cannot worry what anyone else thinks about your journey.”


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For April’s playlist, we’ve gathered some of our favorite songs to share with you. These artists are on constant rotation at the studio (and in the store and café), and serve as daily inspiration for us as we work.

We believe these musicians are producing beautiful work and we know you will love them as much as we do:

St. Paul & the Broken Bones – “Call Me”
A new favorite, from their recently released (debut) album, Half the City. (In case you aren’t familiar, St. Paul and The Broken Bones is a soulful band, recalling the sounds that put Muscle Shoals on the map.)

Pine Hill Haints – “How Much Poison Does It Take”
Alabama “ghost music,” from one of the longest-running bands of the Shoals.

Rosanne Cash – “A Feather’s Not a Bird”
The beautifully- composed opening song on Rosanne’s latest record, which follows her from Florence, Alabama, to Arkansas. In it, she sings of “going down to Florence, just to learn to love the thread.” Read more about Rosanne and The River and The Thread here.

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit – “Alabama Pines”
This song by Shoals native Jason Isbell has become an unofficial Alabama anthem.

Lauderdale – “Dressed Like the Devil”
Southern rock with strong Americana influences, Lauderdale has been making music in the Shoals for nearly a decade.

Dylan LeBlanc – “If The Creek Don’t Rise”
Singer/songwriter Dylan LeBlanc collaborated with music legend Emmylou Harris on this beautifully haunting track.

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In case you aren’t familiar, St. Paul and The Broken Bones is a band packed full of make-you-feel-good soul. Their recent single, “Call Me”, is on constant rotation here at the studio. Although based in Birmingham, Alabama, the group has ties to the Shoals – lead guitarist Browan Lollar is a Shoals native, and the band’s upcoming debut album, Half the City, was produced by Ben Tanner and is being released by Single Lock Records on February 18. The playlist below, curated by “St. Paul” himself, displays a playful knowledge and enjoyment of soul-rooted music.

Name: Paul Janeway
Band: St. Paul and The Broken Bones
Instrument(s) you play: Holler in a microphone
Hometown: Chelsea, AL
Presently residing: Birmingham, AL

AC: When did you start playing music?

PJ: When I was 4 years old, I started singing in church. I think my first song was “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands”. I started playing guitar as a freshman in high school. I am a pretty lousy guitar player though.

AC: What are some of your proudest moments as a musician (or in your life)?

PJ: The first time we sold out a show at Bottletree Café here in Birmingham was a great moment. Also, the time I sang at the Muscle Shoals documentary premiere up in Muscle Shoals. I got to sing “When A Man Loves a Woman” and Spooner Oldham was playing keys to my right. It doesn’t get much bigger than that in my book.

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The Civil Rights Movement gained national attention in the early 1960s. The many protests, marches, and stands for equality were sustained by freedom songs and music from musicians-turned-activists. The setbacks, hardships, failures, and successes of the movement for racial equality can be told through song.

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Musician, author, and dear friend Rosanne Cash was born in Tennessee to a family soon to become Southern music royalty, but has lived for over 20 years in New York City. Still, her Southern heritage played and continues to play a role in shaping who she is as an artist, a traveler, and a citizen of the world. She deeply explores her relationship with the South and with Southern culture in her newest album, The River and the Thread. Listening to these songs, you hear a songwriter investigating how where she came from helped shape who she is today. The tracks are heartfelt, touching, and, by turns, rocking.

A sweet friend to Alabama Chanin, Rosanne curated a playlist for us that includes some of her favorite songs from and about the South. These songs capture the sometimes-elusive nature of our homeland and the people we call family. I’ve been cooking and dancing (and, yes, singing) to these tracks for a week…

Come sing along.

Photo of Rosanne courtesy of Clay Patrick McBride.


Alabama Chanin friend and inspiration, Rosanne Cash, has lived in New York for over 20 years, but her link to the South remains deep and undeniable. Her mother, Vivian Liberto, was born in Texas and her father, Johnny Cash, was an Arkansas native. Rosanne was born in Memphis, Tennessee, and raised for much of her life in California. As a young woman, she also spent time living in Los Angeles, Nashville, London, among other stops on the road. Though she did not grow up in the South, her connection to the region is profound, largely because of what the South meant to her family and how that shaped her growth. It is this connection to the South and the region’s physical, musical, and emotional landscape that she explores in her newest record, The River & the Thread.

Rosanne found herself traveling southward frequently when Arkansas State University began restoring her father’s childhood home in Dyess, Arkansas. Knowing how much her father would have loved the project, Rosanne agreed to participate – which initiated a series of visits. As she traveled, she began to reconnect with the Southern sense of place, so essential to her family identity. She, along with husband and longtime collaborator, John Leventhal, began to shape and create an entire series of songs, all about the South. Rosanne said, “I started going back to where I was born and these songs started arriving in me. My heart got expanded to the South, to the people I had known, to the people I met… We started finding these stories, these great stories, and melodies that went with these experiences.”



Exploration of the extensive Dust-to-Digital catalog continues to reveal compilations that strongly resonate. We have previously written about the moving collections: I Listen to the Wind, Never a Pal Like Mother, Keeping a Record Of It, and Goodbye, Babylon.

Take Me to the Water: Immersion Baptism in Vintage Music and Photography 1890-1950 is a powerful collection that explores immersion baptism, an important component of many Southern religious traditions and religious culture worldwide.

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As seasons change and the holiday rush begins in full force, Christmas carols seem to appear earlier and earlier each year. Once upon a time, Thanksgiving was considered the unofficial date when radio stations began to play holiday music. This year, I heard my first Christmas carol when picking up Halloween candy at the grocery store.

But, regardless of whether you love or avoid holiday music, many of the seasonal songs have been around for hundreds of years. Some have social or political messages and many have a colorful history.


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Musician and Alabama Chanin friend Jake Fussell grew up in Columbus, Georgia, and was exposed to traditional roots music while accompanying his father, folklorist and writer Fred Fussell, on numerous documentary fieldwork trips throughout the South. Through these journeys, Jake became a guitar student of the late Georgia blueswoman, Precious Bryant, and honed his skills playing with local string bands.

I was introduced to Jake and his music years ago by Butch, Maggie’s dad. A late night conversation was followed with a mixed CD, and since then Jake’s music has been in constant rotation on the Alabama Chanin studio playlists. His sound captures a unique aspect of the Southern voice and history – so much so that Jake played my one and only fashion show in New York in 2005.

Jake currently serves as bandleader of The Yalobushwackers, the house band for Thacker Mountain Radio, Oxford, Mississippi’s weekly live-audience literary radio program. In recent years, he has appeared on Prairie Home Companion, toured, and recorded as sideman for several musical acts, most notably as guitarist for Memphis gospel singer Reverend John Wilkins. Jake is also working with our friends at Dust-to-Digital to curate an anthology of Mississippi blues and gospel field recordings made by noted folklorist William R. Ferris.


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We are devout believers in Dust-to-Digital, April and Lance Ledbetter’s acclaimed record label. Their first release, Goodbye, Babylon, is a testament to the Dust-to-Digital mission of archiving, producing, and reproducing high-quality, cultural artifacts.

Lance spent several years researching and compiling the collection of 135 rare gospel songs, dating from 1902 to 1960, and 25 sermons, dating from 1926 to 1941. The stories and songs included in Goodbye, Babylon are filled with Southern and religious folklore. The collection is archived on six CDs, and features recordings from below the Mason-Dixon Line – everything from string bands and gospel quartets to sacred harp choirs and shouting preachers. You might recognize some of the artists, but most of the recordings are obscure treasures.


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Ben Sollee recording in the Mosquito Hut. Prospect, Kentucky. 2013. Photo:PMJ

Ben Sollee spent a few days this past summer trying to capture the songs and sounds that influence his life and music. The makeshift recording studio, a small house nestled in a hollow near Prospect, Kentucky, provided the backdrop for the project, a covers record, including songs by Arthur Russell, Otis Redding, Paul Simon, Harry Belafonte, The Zombies, Howard Finster, Bill Monroe, Fiona Apple, Tom Waits, and Gillian Welch. Screened porches, hallways, decks, and living rooms lend their own particular character to the recordings, and the hollow’s voice can be heard throughout: bugs chirp, birds whistle, water flows, and the wind blows. More collaborators than background, the house and hollow provide the listener with a rich audial scenery and shape Sollee’s voice and cello as he seeks to capture his own versions of the songs that have shaped his development as a musician and songwriter.

BEN SOLLEE: THE HOLLOW SESSIONSThe Mosquito Hut. Prospect, Kentucky. 2013. Photo: PMJ

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Friend and native son Ben Tanner grew up in the Shoals. He graduated from Muscle Shoals High School, and after a few years living in Memphis, Tennessee, and Paris, France, returned to the area to work at FAME Studios with the hope of gaining some valuable experience. That stint was supposed to be a “brief stopover.” But, he says, “I found a really amazing and diverse community of musicians working here, so I’ve stayed.”

An accomplished musician and producer, Ben is also a founding partner in Single Lock Records, a new, local record label focused on helping musicians make better records without going broke. He spends much of his time playing keyboards as part of the Alabama Shakes, though he does play some guitar and bass. “Most things with strings I can pick on a little bit (excluding bowed instruments),” he says.

“Playing and recording music is hard work, and I’m often very hard on myself, but I have brief, occasional moments where I’m consciously aware that I’m a part of making something beautiful that wasn’t there before. Those moments are ecstatic and rare, but they keep me going.”

The playlist below, curated by Ben Tanner, has a “weird South” theme, meaning, it’s Southern music that doesn’t exactly fit the mold of stereotypical “Southern.” He also worked on two tracks on this list with local bands, The Bear and Doc Dailey and Magnolia Devil.



Keeping a Record of It (Harmful Music), 1986, Lonnie Holley, Salvaged phonograph top, phonograph record, animal skull 13 3/4 x 15 3/4 x 9 inches, Courtesy of the Souls Grown Deep Foundation. Photo: Steve Pitkin

Lonnie Holley, at the age of 63, is finally getting his proverbial moment in the sun. The artist’s second album, Keeping A Record of It, was released today by Atlanta’s Dust-to-Digital label, and he is currently touring the US with Deerhunter and Bill Callahan. Earlier this year Holley performed at the Whitney Museum of American Art during the Blues for Smoke exhibition, and a solo-exhibition of his visual work is scheduled to open at th­e James Fuentes Gallery on September 15 in New York. Holley’s life has not, however, always been this glamorous.

Lonnie Bradley Holley was born on February 10, 1950 in Birmingham, Alabama. From the age of 5, Holley worked various jobs, picking up trash at a drive-in movie theatre, washing dishes, and cooking. He lived in a whiskey house, on the state-fair grounds, and in several foster homes. His early life was chaotic and Holley was never afforded the pleasure of a real childhood.


Holley performing at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY. Photo: Matt Arnett

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The Local Playlist is a new feature on the Alabama Chanin Journal. There’s a rich musical history – and presence – in our community, which you’ve likely read about before. So, we thought, instead of just telling you how great the music is, we’d give you a chance to listen.  We’ll share a new playlist every month, each from a different contributor, containing tracks from Shoals musicians and the musicians who influence and inspire them.

A few weeks ago we wrote about local singer/songwriter Louisa (Amber) Murray and her band, The Bear. Amber talked to us about songwriting, shared some inspiration that feeds her creative side, and now she’s sharing some of the music that inspires her to keep singing.

Thank you, Amber, for compiling this rainy day list of female singers for us to enjoy.


We’ve written about our friend Phillip March Jones. Institute 193 in Lexington, Kentucky, is his gallery, a music venue, and multi-faceted publisher, which recently released a compilation of recordings from artists who have performed in the space. Phillip joins us as a contributor to the journal, with an introduction to 193 SOUND.

Sound is a mechanical wave that is an oscillation of pressure transmitted through a solid, liquid, or gas, composed of frequencies within the range of hearing. 193 SOUND is a collection of musical sounds: continuous, regular, and in this case, site-specific vibrations that tell the story of our small space, Institute 193, in Lexington, Kentucky. This compilation records the artists, performers, musicians, and general sound-makers who have emitted, transmitted, and radiated their own SOUNDS from within our walls and that now travel into your range of hearing.

Institute 193, a project I began in October 2009, is a non-profit contemporary art space and publisher that collaborates with artists, musicians, and writers to document the cultural production of the modern South. We produce exhibitions, books, and records with the goal of unearthing significant ideas from the region and sharing them with the world. Institute 193 engages and directs, steering and shaping projects into reality without sanitizing the vision of the artist.

193 SOUND - Photo by Tom Eblen

Outside of Lexington, Institute 193 is mostly known, of course, as a gallery – a place where exhibitions of visual art are installed and observed. But our foray into the music world began just a few weeks after the gallery opened when Ben Sollee, a cellist and pop musician, offered to play a benefit concert at the Red Mile’s Round Barn. Three months later he invited a group of friends to play a post album-release party at the gallery, and Institute 193 unofficially assumed its role as performance space. At roughly 300 square feet, it is perhaps the smallest venue in the United States.

193 SOUND - Photo by Tom Eblen

To date, Institute 193 has hosted over forty musical performances by artists and musicians who play before crowds of twenty to forty people for donations (we pass around a white mop bucket).  During these performances, the gallery has the feel of a dedicated listening room. There is no loud talking or bar chatter to compete with the performers. Hardwood floors and high ceilings offer great acoustics and most acts perform with little or no amplification.

The concerts have ultimately inspired collaborations among artists and musicians. In 2011, Coleman Guyon (Trailblazer) directed a music video for Ben Sollee, and Robert Beatty will be directing several upcoming music videos for Lonnie Holley, who performed with Anna and Elizabeth and Ben Sollee at the Lexington Opera House in December 2012. These new projects, which grew directly from experiences and events at the gallery, were part of the impetus to produce the album. We wanted to bring these artists together onto a single record – a document of things past and a catalyst for things to come.


The vast majority of musicians featured on 193 SOUND are from Kentucky: Ben Sollee, Idiot Glee, Matt Duncan, Street Gnar, The Smacks!, Cross, Ellie Herring, Trailblazer, Goldenrod, Three Legged Race, Resonant Hole, and Warren Byrom and the Canelands. Robert Beatty and Ben Durham, both from Kentucky, have contributed an experimental sound piece that pairs an electronic noise improvisation with the recitation of text from one of Durham’s graphite drawings. The artists performed this piece at Institute 193 in December 2012. The writer Silas House delivers an introduction to the album, and also reads from a new work to the accompaniment of cellist Ben Sollee.

The record also includes songs by artists from across the Southeast: the Atlanta band Ruby Velle and the Soulphonics , North Carolina fiddler Rayna Gellert, the Virginia duo Anna and Elizabeth, and the quilters Georgiana Pettway and Creola Pettway of Gee’s Bend, Alabama. Lonnie Holley, a renowned visual artist, whose work is included in the collections of the Smithsonian and the American Folk Art Museum, has contributed a track, thanks to his label and occasional 193-collaborator, Dust-to-Digital.

193 SOUND - Photo by Matt Arnett

193 SOUND also highlights music by ex-pat Southerners Morgan O’Kane, Zeke Healy, and Archer Prewitt. Prewitt, a native Kentuckian living in Chicago, plays with the band, The Sea and Cake, and is creator of the comic book series Sof’ Boy. The celebrated videographer, musician, and musicologist John Cohen has lent a rare recording of a traditional Appalachian song performed by the Shepherd Family circa 1960.

193 SOUND is designed to give the listener a taste of what is happening within our four walls, hopefully encouraging them to learn about our space and the artists we have been fortunate to work with over the past few years. It is the first of many projects that allows us to share the sounds of our region with the world and ideally will create opportunities for the musicians, artists, and performers involved.


Addendum: Throughout the preceding post, I have often used the pronoun we to describe the forces behind Institute 193. During the first two and a half years of the gallery’s existence, I often used we in the royal sense. It was just me. Since June 2011, however, I have had the opportunity to work with the ever-talented Chase Martin, currently director of Institute 193, who comprises the other half of we. He has been instrumental in every part of the gallery’s operational shenanigans since that time, and we are ever so grateful.

INSTITUTE 193 PRESENTS BEN SOLLEE from Institute 193 on Vimeo.

Photos by Tom Eblen and Matt Arnett.


The music industry as we once knew it has been forced to evolve rapidly in recent years, as technology has grown faster than established business models. Major record labels struggle to maintain control of the radio waves, music sales, artist development, and our ears; meanwhile, established artists like Radiohead and Beck have embraced the Internet, a one-time enemy to record sales, by offering their work at pay-what-you-want prices, or occasionally for free. Other artists, like Jack White with Third Man Records, have taken control of the entire creative process by starting their own indie record labels, effectively surpassing the gatekeepers of yesterday.

Ben Tanner of Alabama Shakes and The Bear, John Paul White, and financial advisor, Shoals native, and friend Will Trapp, are bringing some of that anti-Old Guard attitude to our community with their indie label, Single Lock Records. The Shoals has a rich music history, thanks to Rick Hall, Muscle Shoals Sound, and many others who helped establish the recording industry here during the 1960’s and 70’s. Hall’s FAME Studios, with its talented roster of studio musicians, attracted diverse recording artists, including Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, Cher, Paul Simon, and even the Osmonds. Some of these artists created their best work here. Later, Muscle Shoals Sound opened, recording the Rolling Stones, Traffic, and Bob Dylan, among many others. These days, the music flows OUT of the Shoals, not INTO it.

SINGLE LOCK RECORDS - Photograph by Abraham Rowe Photography

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Last January, we had several conversations in our studio about punks and pirates spurred by Richard McCarthy’s analogy about pirates and “big food.” Just last week, the conversation continued in our studio about how the underground punk movement changed the way music was produced and delivered to the listening public. (More on this coming in the next weeks…)

I was surprised to see this title on the cover of the Arts & Leisure section of The New York Times yesterday:  “Anarchy in the Met: Punks and DIY looks they inspired, captured in a show.

The story highlights a new exhibit at The Costume Institute of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Punk: Chaos to Couture, focusing on DIY Punk fashion.

Certainly music and fashion have been two of the more obvious arenas where the gatekeepers (music executives, producers, designers, magazine editors) have decided for us what we listen to and what we wear. The general anarchy that drove the punk era may have been debaucherous and even, violently, against mainstream culture, but the intellectual elements of DIY are lasting and poignant.

As we approach MAKESHIFT 2013, we anticipate continuing the conversation from MAKESHIFT 2012, when we asked and discussed where the intersection of Fashion, Food, Design, Craft, Music, and DIY intersect and how that intersection ultimately leads to collaboration. Pit stained, ripped t-shirts, and safety pin adornments aside, we have something to learn from the DIY Punk revolution.


Last  week  we wrote about Dust-to-Digital’s Drop on Down in Florida, a 2 CD release highlighting African American music traditions in Florida, paired with a 224-page hardcover book. Dust-to-Digital is a unique recording company: part archivist, part celebrator of cultural artifacts. We will be talking about several of these awesome (by the original definition) releases over the next few weeks.

…i listen to the wind that obliterates my traces: music in vernacular photographs, compiled by Steve Roden, is a 2 CD set and 184-page hardback book exploring an unusual collection of recordings and old photographs related to music.


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Husband and wife team Lance and April Ledbetter are protecting the sounds of our past with their highly acclaimed label, Dust-to-Digital. Founded by Lance a little over a decade ago, Dust-to-Digital is home to a growing catalogue of important cultural works from the United States and around the globe. I’ve been vie­wing their line-up for a few years and am constantly impressed by the amount of material and depth each release includes.  The types of recordings they release are unlike most on the market. It’s really audio conservation in its finest form. I was lucky enough to meet them both last fall during our trip to Atlanta, when we both attended the Lonnie Holly show at the High Museum. Afterward, they attended our event with the Gee’s Bend Quilters at Grocery on Home.


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These days, you don’t think twice about hearing a woman’s voice on the radio. There are surely female deejays or journalists on your local station. NPR broadcasts the voices and stories of women like The Kitchen Sisters or Terry Gross among others. Alabama Chanin favorite, Elizabeth Cook has her own show, “Apron Strings,” on Sirius XM’s Outlaw Country. But, once upon a time, it wasn’t so common to hear a female voice over the airwaves. For those in the Shoals area, Becky Burns Phillips was one of those first voices to be broadcast.

In 1942, Rebecca “Becky” Burns Phillips met her future husband, Sam Phillips, while they were both working at WLAY radio station in Sheffield, Alabama. They were both in high school. She, 17, had a radio segment with her sister where they played music and sang; he was a 19-year old radio announcer who was on his way to making rock and roll history. The Kitchen Sisters, in an article honoring Becky, quoted Sam as saying, “I fell in love with Becky’s voice even before I met her.”  Becky described her first encounter with Sam to journalist Peter Guralnick: “He had just come in out of the rain. His hair was windblown and full of raindrops. He wore sandals and a smile unlike any I had ever seen. He sat down on the piano bench and began to talk to me. I told my family that night that I had met the man I wanted to marry.”

The two were married in 1943. Sam worked feverishly to establish Memphis Recording Service and, later, Sun Records. It is said that, during that time, he suffered two nervous breakdowns – which Becky gracefully helped him through. Becky and Sam had two sons, Jerry and Knox, but motherhood never took away her desire to work in radio.

Sam proudly spoke about how Becky’s talent inspired him to co-found WHER: 1000 Beautiful Watts, referred to as “The First All-Girl Radio Show in the Nation.” He would say that he wanted women, wanted his wife to have a chance that no one had ever given them before – and he co-founded WHER with the money he made from selling Elvis Presley’s contract. He would say, “Becky was the best I ever heard.”

Her son Knox remembered that, at the time of WHER’s conception, women weren’t even allowed to attend the Columbia School of Broadcasting. “But, because of my mother,” he said, “when Sam started the station (WHER) he made it all female: all female air talent, all female executives and sales staff,” he told The Commercial Appeal.

At WHER, Becky was able to shine – writing scripts, organizing segments, managing the station, and presenting in her own beautiful way. She was in charge of approving each record that was played. Though her husband was a rock and roll legend, there were no rocking records at WHER. And there were NEVER to be any curse words allowed over the airwaves. Over the years, she hosted a number of radio shows and carefully curated every day’s segments. Becky told the Kitchen Sisters, “I played music to work by – all the beautiful music like Jackie Gleason and Doris Day, and I gave household hints.”

Phillips broadcast on the radio for over 40 years, until the mid-1980’s, always with her distinctive sign-off: “A smile on your face puts a smile in your voice.”

Mrs. Phillips died in September of 2012 at the age of 87.

Becky Burns Phillips carefully preserved WHER’s record library for well over 40 years. Many of those recordings can be heard on the Peabody Award winning segment by the Kitchen Sisters, “Lost and Found Sound: 1000 Beautiful Watts.”

Listen to Becky Phillips talk about her husband, Sam, and WHER Radio for the TV Segment, “The Lives They Lived” here:

There were few like her, a true pioneer in her field. Her fearlessness and her devotion to her family and her profession are inspirational. We are proud to be part of a community that fostered a woman like Becky Phillips, a pioneer in spirit and part of the heart and soul of Alabama Chanin.

P.S.: I never met Becky Phillips.  After moving back home in 2000, I was “busy.” Building a business and sorting through my own life, closed me off to some of the great treasures (and families) of my own community. My loss.  Resolution: take time to work less and belong more.  xoNatalie

*Photo above found on The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, Tennessee


“Craft” might seem like it’s for the amateurs, and “fashion” for the auteurs. Yet we live in an age where creativity and innovation are increasingly found in collaborations between makers and users, crafters and designers, designers and manufacturers, and in the loosening of the boundaries between them. Open sourcing and the emergence of DIY everything (from apps to dresses to education) are THE design stories of the 21st century.

If the philosophers and economists are right, such stories reflect renewed possibilities for building communities, for growing businesses, and for practicing everyday forms of enchantment, ethics, and sustainability. It is time to expand our way of thinking about the relationship between craft and fashion, between the self-made and the ready-to-wear, between fashion as intellectual property and fashion as an open source. What can we learn from the fields of music, product design, and education? Does a backward glance help us see how fashion was at the forefront of these innovations from the start? What is a Vogue pattern if not an open source? What are les petits mains other than artists?



Over the four days of New York Design Week (May 19-22, 2012), Alabama Chanin–in collaboration with its fashion and design partners–is organizing a series of talks, workshops, and gatherings with leaders in the fashion, design, and craft/DIY communities. The events bring together a dynamic combination of industry leaders to explore the ways in which the fashion, art, and design worlds are inextricably linked to the world of craft/DIY and how each of these worlds elevates the others. We look to create an intersection–a meeting point–to explore, discuss, and celebrate the role of local production, handmade, and craft/DIY in fashion and design as a way to empower individuals, businesses, and communities.

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You know how we at Alabama Chanin feel about open sourcing. We offer our techniques and the information necessary to recreate our products, should you decide that you want to do-it-yourself. After three books, countless DIY Kits, and an amazing array of workshops, we have learned some important things: people will take your ideas and run with them; what you put into the world will come back to you in ways that you never imagined; the world is a creative place; and you never know what people are capable of until you give them the tools and the opportunity to create.

That being said, I think we’ve found a kindred spirit in the musician, Beck. While listening to one of my podcast staples, All Things Considered, I caught an interview where he described his newest album – an album that he, himself, hasn’t actually recorded. Song Reader (published by, awesome, McSweeney’s) is a set of 20 songs that Beck has released only in sheet music format. His hope is that other musicians will take the material and record their own versions. After releasing so many solo albums, he said that crowdsourcing his music seemed like a way to make the process less lonely.

From All Things Considered: “When you write a song and make a recording and put out a record, it’s kind of [like] sending a message in a bottle,” Beck says. “You don’t really get a lot of feedback. This is a way of sending that song out, and you just get literally thousands of bottles sent back to you.”

There are plenty of artists that have taken up this artistic challenge. You can hear many of them at Beck’s Song Reader website. Maybe, you’ll find your own inspiration there.

To hear the entire interview and some of the songs that have been recorded, listen to the All Things Considered segment here.

P.S.: Sheet music image from “Old Shanghai” by Beck and included in Song Reader. Illustration for that piece by Kelsey Dake.


The musical legacy of our community is rather incredible; you don’t have to look hard or far to find a wealth of talent in the Shoals. Dive bars, back porches, and BBQs are all likely places for impromptu jam sessions. If you were living here during the 60’s or 70’s you probably have a story about the Rolling Stones, Wilson Pickett, Paul Simon, Cher, Lynyrd Skynyrd, or any number of the musicians that recorded at FAME Studios or Muscle Shoals Sound (shown in the photo above at 3614 Jackson Highway in Muscle Shoals, Alabama).

In the 1940’s, you may have heard Sam Phillips, founder of Sun Records, DJ-ing on the Muscle Shoals radio station, WLAY. Phillips has credited the station as inspiration and influence on his later work.

This once legendary music scene has experienced resurgence recently with artists like Bettye LaVette, the Black Keys (see video below), Band of Horses, and Alicia Keys traveling to the Shoals to produce, record, and work. And while we love that our great history, amazing engineers, and studios are attracting big names, it is our local musicians that we adore – the hometown heroes that are pursuing their dreams and doing what they love, all while dealing with the daily grind. We will begin highlighting some of the incredible local bands and musicians that call the Shoals home, starting with the very near and dear Doc Dailey & Magnolia Devil.

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Recently, I had the opportunity to visit the Frist Center for the Visual Arts in Nashville, Tennessee, to view “Creation Story: Gee’s Bend Quilts and the Art of Thornton Dial.” I spent forever moving from one quilt to the next – leaning as closely in as I could without being reprimanded. No matter how many times you see those beautiful pieces, they never fail to amaze and inspire. The quilts, while spectacular, were meant for everyday use and were made with whatever materials were available. The personal stories associated with each quilt drove that point home. Each was described by the maker in simple terms and plain language, as if what they produced was no big deal, as though anyone could do it. I was particularly taken by the quilts of Missouri Pettway, both intricate and simple in their constructions. One quilt, made from her husband’s work clothes, demonstrated the love that went into each and every one of these works of art. I felt a lump rise in my throat as I read the description, as told by the quilter’s daughter, Arlonzia:

“It was when Daddy died. I was about seventeen, eighteen. He stayed sick about eight months and passed on. Mama say, ‘I going to take his work clothes, shape them into a quilt to remember him, and cover up under it for love.’ She take his old pants legs and shirttails, take all the clothes he had, just enough to make that quilt, and I helped her tore them up. Bottom of the pants is narrow, top is wide, and she had me to cutting the top part out and shape them up in even strips.” Continue reading


Today I received a beautifully packaged CD from the talented Tift Merritt. The CD features many of her new songs that will certainly be heard during our work days in the studio.

We had the pleasure of hearing Tift’s amazing voice at her performance for the opening of our pop-up shop at the Billy Reid store in New York.

We hope to see Tift in New York, or perhaps Alabama, very soon.



After taking time to reflect on our recent week in New York for MAKESHIFT, I’m already thinking about MAKESHIFT 2013.

Here are some highlights from the conversation at The Standard Talks. We reported the MAKESHIFT events here on the blog throughout the week, and had great press coverage from the New York Times, Style.com, Page Six, and Jezebel. Here’s a recap of our memorable conversation.

From The Standard Talks panel discussion:

Andrew Wagner began with a grand introduction and also referenced Ettore Sottsass’s essay, ‘When I Was a Very Small Boy’.

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To begin the evening at MAKESHIFT @ the Standard Talks, Rosanne Cash opened with a performance of “Fair and Tender Ladies,” a traditional Appalachian folk song that has been recorded by many singers. The song had been performed by her step-mother, June Carter Cash.

Rosanne began by sharing her thoughts on crafting and writing music. In turn, she asked the audience to collaborate and “craft” a new song from the original version. This posed the question: “What can we learn from the field of music as we creatively approach a collaboration between amateurs and auteurs, makers and users?”

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Last month, we introduced Jessamyn, a new contributor to this blog. Sharing the story of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fires cast a sad light on the history of labor laws in the U.S; however, she showed us how to find better joys in fashion, ecology, and ethics. She has since written about the meaning of D.I.Y.

This week, in a conversation between Jessamyn and Rosanne Cash—another dear friend and colleague—Rosanne shares sentimental stories on the garments that occupy her life and closet.

Please welcome back Jessamyn – and Rosanne – part of the growing heart and soul of Alabama Chanin.

Rosanne and Jessamyn will also be participating in MAKESHIFT: shifting thoughts on design, fashion, community, craft, & DIY.

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At the Factory, we play music to help set an inspiring tone for our work environment, and sometimes to just get us through the day. At any given time, you will hear a range of genres including folk, classical, rock, country, and independent artists. We don’t usually pick favorites, but The Civil Wars’ sounds are often heard floating through the shelves of organic fabric in the studio.

Joy Williams and John Paul White’s soothing and harmonic melodies have provided the soundtrack to many FULL workdays. The songs are sometimes bluesy, sometimes haunting, and always powerful. Their voices simply sound natural and right together. Perhaps we’re partial to them—not only because of their poetic music—but also because they are rooted in the Shoals; The Civil Wars are a vital part of our artistic community. But, we also feel connected to the band because of their approach to making, or “crafting” music.

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It is going to take me weeks to express the joy, inspiration, and love I found at the Southern Foodways Alliance Symposium.  (And it will take a lot longer to lose all the weight I found. Strange what a side of pork and a case of beer can do to the body… just kidding – well maybe.)

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Krista Tippett’s podcast, On Being, has spurred many conversations and thoughtful moments in my life. I listened to the episode, Civility, History & Hope – Vincent Harding in conversation with Krista Tippett – in August and I just can’t seem to get it out of my mind. On my recent trips, I listened to it at least four more times and each time it resonated with more clarity.

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Lorna –  from Fancy Pony Land – gave me this lovely necklace made from pennies left on the Marfa train tracks and Ben Kweller’s grandmother dances to a song of the same origin.

Happy Sunday in Marfa…

Off to breakfast at El Cosmico and on to Austin!


The beautiful, beautiful Patty Griffin performs with Robert Plant and the Crown Vics.

A dream.

Today I will require a massage (or two) at El Cosmetico.


Looking forward to my issue on December 1st:

Oxford American: Eleventh Annual Southern Music Issue

*Photograph: “Record Player” by Haley Jane Samuelson, from her series Another Room (2009), courtesy of Hous Projects, NYC.


It was a great weekend for music in the Shoals…

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit launched their self-titled CD at the newly remodeled Shoals Theatre in downtown Florence. It was staggering to see this iconic venue from my childhood develop to fantastic music venue.

The place was packed with friends, family, fans. Fame Studio, Muscle Shoals Sound, music giants Dick Cooper, Spooner Oldham and others watched as the theatre transformed.

CONGRATULATIONS go out to Spooner Oldham, and his wife Karen, for Spooner’s recent induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. What a great, and well deserved, honor. All of us in the Shoals are proud to call Spooner friend and hero.

Also, a GIANT shout-out to Shonna Tucker (more amazing than everyone raves) of the Drive-By Truckers for stories, laughter, good food and company… we can’t wait to photograph Shonna for the upcoming Songbirds catalog.

And we are all looking forward to seeing the Truckers @ the Shoals Theatre in the near future..

Thanks to Traci @ Thirty Tigers and Logan @ Lightening Records for making it all happen…


Okay, what about a woman who can sing and cook, has her own radio program called “Apron Strings” and has a song about how it “Takes Balls” to be a woman?

Check out Elizabeth Cook.

Elizabeth has fans from all corners of the earth that make their own music videos to her songs. Check out this awesome It Takes Balls video that Elizabeth found on You Tube.



Our weekend workshop was a beautiful mixture of women from all walks of life. It was wonderful to hear our studio filled with laughter, chatter and, from time to time, the quiet hum of concentrated fingers at work. All of the projects are lovely and I am certain that the participants will be showing off their garments over the course of the next months.

(Keep an eye on the flickr page for new additions: Alabama Stitch Book Group )

Our Sunday morning was enchanted by a serenade of Alabama Song by singer, songwriter, and designer, Allison Moorer. Allison is an amazing woman and I was inspired by her fearless choice to make our 16-Panel Swing Dress with all-over rose reverse applique.

I cannot wait to see her on stage in the piece and feel grateful to have found a new stitching sister so close to home as Nashville is just a hop, a skip and a jump up the Natchez Trace from Florence.

Visit Allison’s website.

Listen to her music, and stay tuned for more on a week in music (thanks to Allison and Traci).

Posted at 5:13 am


This lovely story from Blair Hobbs makes me smile:

I grew up in Auburn, AL, and Opelika, AL is just a few miles away. It’s the Norma Rae town and has a large textile mill (I’m sure you know this). Anyway, I remember how sparse my elementary school music room was, but there were huge boxes of old thread spools that were discarded by the mill. I remember sitting in a large circle, with my music class, as our teacher, Mrs. Shell, instructed us to keep time with the music by tapping the metal tips of the spools together. It was a sweet clicking sound. For a deeper tap, we’d switch ends and tap the spool “heads” together. Your book helped me recall this memory, so I thought I’d share.

— Photo Courtesy of Blair

I asked Blair if I could share her story & a photograph of her about the time of the musical spools. Here is what she writes about the shot: It’s a picture of the neighbor’s mean cat visiting my grandmother and me on my parents’ patio. With the photo blown up, I can see how the backyard used to be an Alabama pine forest (and then a tornado came). This grandmother used to crochet sweaters for her clothes hangers. Her closet was a rainbow; each hanger was a different yarn color, and she’d decorate their necks with ribbons, silk flowers, and frosted wax berries.