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Betty Fox Band: Peace in Pieces
by George Graham
(Independent release as broadcast on WVIA-FM 1/22/2020)
Perhaps it’s because of the utterly soul-less nature of so much of today’s computer fabricated pop music, but there has been quite a revival during the last few years of classic 1960s-style soul music in its different variations, Motown, Memphis, New Orleans, Muscle Shoals. While some of it has come from veteran artists who have seen a revival of their career like William Bell and Mavis Staples, there is an encouraging amount from younger artists, many of whom had not been born when the style was in its heyday. This week, we have another excellent example. It’s the new release by the Betty Fox Band called Peace in Pieces.
Betty Fox is from Tampa, Florida, and grew up on Southern country Gospel, when her family would get together and sing old songs like The Old Rugged Cross. She made her first public performance at a church play at age 4. Music was a major component of her life as she honed her craft and eventually released her debut album called Too Far Gone around 2012, then followed it with Slow Burn in 2015. She has been attracting a fair amount of attention along the way, including being one of the finalist bands in the International Blues Challenge in Memphis.
Ms. Fox is a versatile singer, who also wrote or co-wrote all but one of the songs on her new album. Though she does a little blues, the emphasis of the new album is clearly on classic soul. She and her band journeyed to the legendary Fame Studio in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, where they were joined by Spooner Oldham on electric piano, who played on many of the 1960s hits to come from the studio, along with organist Clayton Ivey and a horn section from Muscle Shoals scene. The result is a record with a classic and authentic sound, quite tastefully the done throughout. Ms. Fox’ own band appears, including guitarist Josh Nelms, who co-wrote some of the songs with her, plus bassist Barry Williams, and Chris Peet on drums, an exceptionally fine drummer who solidly lays down the groove of the music. The arrangements make no concessions to contemporary commercial pop, with not a synthesizer or a drum loop or fake hand-clap to be heard on the album. It’s just honest soul, though a cynic could say it is a bit of a museum piece, for how carefully it follows the style of fifty-plus years ago. But it’s all so well done that the music’s appeal is pretty irresistible.
Opening the generous 63-minute long 14 song album is an original called Green Light. Ms Fox comes out of the gate swinging in this song about the classic theme of making her way back to her baby. <<>>
More laid back is Winter’s Cold another track in classic form, with Memphis style horn arrangements. <<>>
Ms. Fox dedicates the album to Nelda Marie Young who Ms. Fox describes on her website as being a like mother to her and her sister. The song called Marie is the centerpiece of that dedication. <<>>
The title track Peace in Pieces is about overcoming adversity a little at a time. It’s a great upbeat song with the band really cooking. <<>>
The album has a few sad songs. One of them is Let Go or Be Dragged, which is done with the appropriate amount of soul, with the help of the backing vocalists. <<>>
One of the most interesting songs is called Shattered Dreams and Broken Toes which takes a kind of sultry musical direction. Ms. Fox shows her vocal versatility. <<>>
One track which is a departure is Fireflies and eight-minute song which takes a rootsy, vaguely country-influenced direction. <<>>
Another step out of the soul mold comes on Rising Strong, with a shuffle blues groove. One wonders why Ms. Fox and company didn’t do more blues like this.
The album closes with ‘Til the Storm Passes By which shows Ms. Fox’s early Gospel roots, with the accompaniments of just piano and organ. <<>>
Peace in Pieces the new third album by the Betty Fox Band is another first-rate example of the burgeoning revival of 1960s-syle soul from younger artists who do a very authentic job of serving up music and capturing the spirit of sounds that emerged before they were born. This album’s venue in the Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals gives it an extra degree of authenticity. Ms. Fox is a strong, versatile vocalist and worthy songwriter, and her band with the added Muscle Shoals players capture the music’s groove with a lot of class. My only possible complaint is that maybe it’s a little too much of a good thing. Ms Fox and band show that they can do some other grooves beside classic soul, and the lengthy album is sequenced with the soul-influenced tracks at the start, with the variety only beginning to show toward the end. It might have been good so do another blues tune or two.
Our grade for audio quality is close to an “A.” The album has the iconic Muscle Shoals sound with a crisp mix and a great real authentic drum sound. Ms. Fox’s vocal power is well captured, though as always, I think that the dynamic range could have been better with less volume compression.
Florida’s Betty Fox Band has shown themselves to be one of the bright lights of the soul revival movement.
(c) Copyright 2020 George D. Graham. All rights reserved.
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