There’s an enduring mythology that surrounds Muscle Shoals — some credit the town’s rich musical inspiration to the spirit of its “Singing River,” a part of the Tennessee riverbank where, according to Native American lore, the spirit of a lost woman casts her muse on all who pass. True or not, there are plenty of souls still thriving in the legendary town, including Donnie Fritts, the much-lauded songwriter, musician and Kris Kristofferson keyboardist who has often gone under-the-radar as a solo artist. On October 9th, at the age of 72, he’ll release a new LP, Oh My Goodness, co-produced by John Paul White of the Civil Wars and Alabama Shakes’ Ben Tanner.
The album is White’s first as producer, and his partnership with Tanner is proving to be an enduring one — the two also worked with Lindi Ortega on her recent release, Faded Gloryville. They’re not the only artists from the next generation of the Muscle Shoals sound to lend their hand to Oh My Goodness. Jason Isbell, Brittany Howard and the Secret Sisters all add vocals to the LP, along with institutions like John Prine and Spooner Oldham. Collaborators were plentiful, and so were the songs: some written by others, some by Fritts himself, like “If It’s Really Gotta Be This Way,” composed with fellow FAME legend Arthur Alexander. Listen to the exclusive stream below.
“‘Really Gotta Be This Way’ is one of my all-time favorite songs,” Fritts tells Rolling Stone Country. “It’s also a very personal song because it was the next-to-last song I ever wrote with Arthur Alexander. We wrote it for his album, Lonely Just Like Me. It’s a real personal song to me and I’m really proud of it.”
Fritts’ vocals on the track are unmistakable: soulfully worn with each elastic syllable sticking to the next, ushered in with a mellow strum but met later by a subtle female doo-wop choir so emblematic of that distinct Muscle Shoals sound. Though he’s often known as “Funky Donnie Fritts,” the funk quotient is more nuanced here, favoring grit and introspection, courtesy of a string-heavy arrangement, over a faster-paced shuffle.
The duo cut the LP at White’s home studio in Florence, Alabama. They’d first met at the premiere of the 2013 documentary Muscle Shoals, which paid tribute to legends like Wilson Pickett, the Rolling Stones and Percy Sledge who all recorded in the small, southern town. Not, however, Fritts. He was just a quick flash on screen despite having worked with so many of those artists to create their emblematic hits. Oh My Goodness is Fritts’ chance to say that the musical power of Muscle Shoals is not found in some singing river — it’s in people like him.