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Soul sentiment: Melissa Etheridge’s latest album pays homage to Stax Records stars

Melissa Etheridge is releasing her album “Memphis Rock and Soul” on legendary label Stax Records in October. (Courtesy of John Tsiavis)

Melissa Etheridge is releasing her album “Memphis Rock and Soul” on legendary label Stax Records in October. (Courtesy of John Tsiavis)

Melissa Etheridge is gutsy.

Whether it’s on or off stage, it’s that characteristic that has led to a stellar career.

And she’s going strong.

Her latest album, “Memphis Rock and Soul,” is proof of that.

“You have no idea,” she says of diving into this project. “It took a lot of soul-searching.”

There was a little intimidation going into this project.

Not only was it something new, but the singer took on songs by Otis Redding, Mavis Staples, Sam and Dave, and Rufus Thomas.

And she recorded in the historic Royal Studios in Memphis, Tenn.

All of this to pay homage to what the artists on Stax Records mean to her.

“It’s something that directly influenced me, and indirectly,” she says. “So much a part of what I’ve always wanted to be and wanted to sing and show that emotion, that intensity that knows no color. It comes from your soul. Each of us knows the heartbreak of ‘I’ve Been Loving You Too Long’ – ‘Please don’t make me stop now!’ ”

Whatever pause the task may have given her going in, it was forgotten immediately upon her arrival in Memphis for what turned out to be a buoyantly inspired and inspiring experience: 10 days of recording that exceeded even her most hopeful dreams.

Just being in the studio, built by the late Willie Mitchell in an old vaudeville theater and still run by his son, Lawrence “Boo” Mitchell, was treat enough, she says.

“It hasn’t changed much since 1964, which is part of the magic,” she says. “It’s right in the middle of a neighborhood. You step outside and people are walking by. It’s the heart of Memphis, where everything is.”

Etheridge worked with producer John Burk, president of the Concord Label Group, whose production credits range from Ray Charles to Mel Tormé to Tito Puente.

But most magical were the people, the musicians and Stax insiders, who took her into the family for the sessions. “The musicians were so totally respectful the first day I came in,” she says. “The Rev. Charles Hodges! He plays organ on all the great Al Green records. He had the organ he always played, and as soon as he sat down and played a note, I just melted. He’s the sweetest, lovingest man. Before the sessions began, I would be in there as they told their stories, how they were touring in the ’60s and ’70s, would be laughing about how they got stopped by the cops in Alabama, taken to a farmhouse with a judge there, looking for ropes on the trees. And they’re laughing! I’m horrified, but they love it and it’s their life and it’s there in the soulful groove of the music.”

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