Tom Schick (Wilco, Mavis Staples)
FAME Studios, Muscle Shoals, AL
The Loft, Chicago, IL
The breezy jangle of “Get Away,” the opening track off Belle Adair’s striking new album, Tuscumbia, might not be the first thing you’d expect to hear from an Alabama band named after a John Steinbeck reference. Combining mellow, atmospheric rock and swirling, retro power-pop, it’s more Big Star than Swampers, but it’s an ideal gateway into the blissed-out world of Belle Adair, a group that manages to make even worry and isolation sound inviting. Recorded at Muscle Shoals’ legendary FAME Studios with Wilco producer/engineer Tom Schick, Tuscumbia calls to mind everything from The Byrds to Teenage Fanclub as frontman Matthew Green’s meditative lyrics navigate a slew of major life changes, contemplate the meaning of home, and grapple with the realities of life on the road.
While it’s been nearly five years since Belle Adair released their innovative, adventurous debut album, ‘The Brave and the Blue,’ it’s hardly been a quiet time for the group. Green hit the road playing bass for labelmate Dylan LeBlanc, and he and the rest of Belle Adair took up regular gigs as the backing band for Muscle Shoals legend Donnie Fritts and The Civil Wars’ John Paul White.
It’s little wonder that a group as dynamic and versatile as Belle Adair is as much of a hit with fellow songwriters as they are with critics. NPR praised the band’s “dreamy sound,” while SPIN said their music “glows with a deep, dusky aura,” and Uncut compared them to “Wilco, when the roots were still showing, with flashes of The Byrds and a note of country sadness.” Despite the group’s hectic schedule performing with others, they still managed to find time for gigs of their own, including opening slots with The Alabama Shakes (Belle Adair’s touring keyboardist, Ben Tanner, also tours and records with that group), festival performances from SXSW to CMJ, and multiple appearances at the annual Billy Reid Shindig.
Belle Adair has always been a group that prides itself on the strength and magnetism of its live performances, and Tuscumbia is no exception. The band recorded everything live as a group over the course of a week, soaking up the vibes in FAME as they laid down tracks in the same studio where Aretha Franklin cut “I Never Loved A Man” and Wilson Pickett sang “Mustang Sally.”
“The difference between the last record and this one is the difference between having a band and being in a band,” Green explains. “On the last record, I was just sitting there with my acoustic guitar and not even thinking about how the songs might be recorded, but this time I was really able to write to the strengths of the other guys.”
The result is a massive leap forward, a definitive declaration of identity from a band that’s ready to step to the front of the stage and buck tradition in search of their own personal truths. It’s the sound of new chapters, of late night calls home, of coming back to the place where it all began. It’s the modern sound of Tuscumbia.
“They hail from Muscle Shoals but in many ways Belle Adair recalls another famous band from the South: R.E.M."
[Belle Adair makes] songs that are brimming with sincerity and emotionality that’s embellished with rich instrumentation and atmosphere.”
“...here in Alabama, there are bands like Belle Adair doing this kind of dreamy sound that has a connection to roots music but isn’t directly derivative...It fits in really nicely with the new South sound.”
“The sweetness of Matt Green’s voice carries echoes of Jeff Tweedy."