It was for the late Arthur Alexander that producer Rick Hall created the Muscle Shoals, Ala., sound in 1961. The mid-tempo ballad "You Better Move On" featured plaintively soulful, conversational vocals surrounded by tightly-syncopated music with a rustic, countrified aura and a persistently underlying sense of melancholy and menace. Aretha Franklin, Clarence Carter, Wilson Pickett and many more followed him to Muscle Shoals in search of similar musical authenticity.
Alexander, who hailed from Florence, Ala., never had another hit as big, although his songs were beloved and covered by The Beatles ("Anna"), The Stones ("Move On") and Bob Dylan ("Sally Sue Brown"). Alexander gave up on recording in the 1980s to become a Cleveland school bus driver but was lured back in 1993, when the Nonesuch American Explorer CD series found him and sent him to Nashville to record with Rock-connoisseur producer Ben Vaughn and some session players, including old Muscle Shoals veterans.
Lonely Just Like Me was the result, featuring some familiar (to his aficionados) older songs along with newer ones. On "Go Home Girl," "Johnny Heartbreak" and "In the Middle of It All," among others, the voice has aged after 30 years but still has that unusual and appealing plaintive quality. Plus there is a newly acquired hard-won gentleness.
Alexander died of a heart attack shortly after Lonely's release. Now it's been reissued with an added 1993 mini-concert done for Terry Gross' Fresh Air radio show and some diamond-in-the-rough demos, including Neil Diamond's "Solitary Man." Grade: A-