The big city calls and your daughters are smiling in the windows of apartment buildings

As we took in the sound of Gabe Witcher’s bow dancing across the strings of his violin and Greg Garrison’s carefully chosen plunks of the bass chords, I was overwhelmed again by Punch Brothers’ debut album, “Punch.” When I reviewed the album at the time of its 2008 release, I spent six weeks obsessing over it before putting it aside for three months. The music is absorbing, and I needed a beat away from its introspective content.

I had wanted to play this album for my boyfriend since we began dating two years ago; he’s an audiophile and a classical music fan. I knew this album would sound fantastic on his speakers, and I suspected the composition, which takes cues from classical music and jazz, would grab his attention.

After the recording ended, I noted that my interest in attending Alabama Symphony Orchestra performances–particularly the masterworks series–was likely influenced by this album, and most certainly by its primary composer, Chris Thile. Before meeting Put, I attended a handful of ASO special events. But I had never been to what I thought of as a “proper” symphony performance. I wasn’t sure if I’d like it, but I wanted to find out. (Put took me to hear the ASO perform one of Tchaikovsky’s symphonies during our first few months dating. I’ve been hooked.)

In other words, “Punch” was a game changer for me. But it certainly isn’t the only album that holds that distinction. Caedmon’s Call’s “40 Acres” was the first album to make me realize sometimes the best songs aren’t on the radio. It took a while for it to click, but “Abbey Road” was the album that kickstarted my Beatles fan-dom. I don’t know what made me hear the album differently than the first five or six times I played it, but once it made sense, I couldn’t get enough.

This isn’t an exhaustive list, and I know I’m not alone. I want to know: Which albums have been game changers for you?

Today’s subject line comes from Punch Brothers’ “Blind Leaving the Blind: Third Movement.”

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It’s release day for “Muscle Shoals Sound Studio: How the Swampers Changed American Music”

It’s been more than a year since I decided to tackle this project, and yet it still doesn’t quite seem real. Tonight we’ll launch “Muscle Shoals Sound Studio: How the Swampers Changed American Music” with a book signing at Alabama Booksmith. In the meantime, take a peek at reviews of music recorded at Muscle Shoals Sound and stories about the studio on my Muscle Shoals Sound Studio Pinterest board. Hope to see you tonight!

Follow Carla Jean Whitley’s board Muscle Shoals Sound Studio on Pinterest.

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Five days till “Muscle Shoals Sound Studio: How the Swampers Changed American Music” debuts

20140716-214235-78155400.jpgThanks to Weld for Birmingham for including my Alabama Booksmith signing in this week’s calendar of events! It’ll be the debut of “Muscle Shoals Sound Studio: How the Swampers Changed American Music,” and I’m excited for that day to finally arrive.

You can find copies of Weld, a great weekly newspaper, in 400 locations all around Birmingham. (PS Weld’s editor, Nick Patterson, recently published a book of his own. Look for “Birmingham Foot Soldiers” wherever books are sold.)

CITY_SCENEThanks, also, to The Birmingham News’ City Scene for including my signing in last Friday’s paper. I’ll confess, seeing my name in print hasn’t gotten old, even after 10 years in this field and even after working at that very paper. The Birmingham News is published Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays and is widely distributed throughout the metro area.




Filed under Books, Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, Press

I must be traveling on now ’cause there’s too many places I’ve got to see

We’re one week from the debut of “Muscle Shoals Sound Studio: How the Swampers Changed American Music,” and I can hardly wait! I’m also excited to share the book’s most recent press coverage. Alec Harvey, the managing producer of entertainment, dining and travel at Alabama Media Group, asked me to share my favorite songs recorded at Muscle Shoals Sound Studio. It was a challenge, and I couldn’t stop at my original list of five (so you get a bonus song!). But here’s the fun thing: You can listen to these and other songs yourself via the Spotify playlist below. I’d like to know, what are your favorite examples of the Muscle Shoals sound?

Carla Jean Whitley knows a lot about Muscle Shoals.

For the past year or so, the managing editor of Birmingham magazine has been researching and writing her first book, “Muscle Shoals Sound Studio: How the Swampers Changed American Music.”

The book, a history of the famed recording studio in northwest Alabama, details the many superstars who have recorded there, the songs they sang, and, of course, the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, a group of studio musicians better known as the Swampers. Read more “‘ Muscle Shoals Sound Studio’ author details her favorite songs recorded there” at

Today’s subject line comes from Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird,” which was originally recorded at Muscle Shoals Sound Studio. Learn more about the studio 

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This INFJ has a dirty little secret

I’m in the process of becoming trained as a yoga teacher, and the nine-month-long training includes writing a number of papers. I’ll post them here because, well, that’s what I do. The fourth writing assignment was a reflection on a month of practicing yoga at home. Our instructor asked us to practice three days a week for at least half an hour each time. We were to move on our own, without videos, books or apps to guide us.

Set an intention for your practice. Focus on the breath. Warm up the body. Sun salutations. Standing poses. Inversions and arm balances, if I feel like changing it up. Seated poses. Cool down. Savasana.

The rhythm of a yoga practice has become comforting, whether I’m in class or on my own. There’s plenty of room for creativity within this loose pattern, but even a loose structure helps me find my way as I stretch and move around my mat.

I would have guessed that transitioning from one pose to another could be challenging, but as I’ve spent more time in home practice I’ve realized that my body and mind both know what makes sense. I’ve spent enough time in yoga classes to have some idea of what flows. Likewise, as I’ve worked to establish a home practice without any outside guidance, I’ve discovered that half an hour isn’t much time to spend in yoga. I can barely get through a standing sequence before it’s time to start winding down.

The real discovery has come off the mat: I’m undisciplined.

When I shared this revelation, my roommate was skeptical. “You’re plenty disciplined,” she said. “Or maybe you’re just more disciplined than me.”

True, I’ve got a Type-A personality. I’m able to focus and accomplish a lot, and frequently I can do so in a short timeframe. That’s precisely why I didn’t recognize my lack of discipline before. I’m able to put on blinders to isolate myself from the rest of the world and peck away at a task until I’ve accomplished what I must.

But so much of this is based on what I want to do, what’s fun to me. Writing a book qualifies. Managing my budget does not. Sleeping until my alarm rings for the third time is decadent. Climbing out of bed and onto my yoga mat doesn’t sound so tempting, at least not before I’ve had my first cup of coffee.

It’s been hard to identify the rhythms of my life and where a regular home practice fits within them. So far, that has meant an erratic schedule but satisfying yoga; even if I spend 15 minutes in supta baddha konasana followed by 15 minutes with legs up the wall, I feel peaceful and challenged. And those lessons are following me into the rest of my life, as I begin taking steps toward building discipline, even while yoga brings me freedom.

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Am I what I read?

In “The Polysyllabic Spree,” Nick Hornby writes, “All the books we own, both read and unread, are the fullest expression of self we have at our disposal. … But with each passing year, and with each whimsical purchase, our libraries become more and more able to articulate who we are, whether we read the books or not.”

It’s an arguable point, but one I identified with immediately. My bookcases are stuffed to overflowing with books I haven’t yet read, and I’m always acquiring more. I’m admittedly, unabashedly a book hoarder.

Sometimes those piles of books paralyze me. I’m so excited by the choices that I can’t decide what to read next. That’s been the case quite often in recent months, and even more so since I returned from Book Expo America; a tidy pile of advance reader copies now lines one wall of my bedroom.

It’s not just that I can’t decide what to read first. If only things were so simple! I’ve also run out of space in which to store all of these books. I have books in my living room, books in my kitchen. I’d store books in my bathroom if there were only a bit more space. I tuck books into the nooks of my secretary-style desk, and I pile books artfully on the shelves of end tables.

There’s a method to my madness, with genres sorted by room and shelves. But my bedroom is now out of control. The bookcase holds Alabama books and writing books, and my most treasured books top my dresser. But I’ve got borrowed books tucked beneath the head of my bed, and books I intend to mail to my nephew at the foot. (Books meant to be mailed to Mom are in the backseat of my car, because who needs logic?) Recent acquisitions were perched atop and nestled beside my typewriter, but that space has overflowed. Now, they’re stacked between my dresser and the wall and, as I’ve mentioned, lining one wall of my room.

I know it’s a bit crazy, but I’ve made my peace with the disarray. If it’s good enough for Nick Hornby, it’s good enough for me.

These are the books I’ve acquired in the six weeks since and including BEA.

  1. Dangerous by Susan Fast
  2. The Objects of Her Affection by Sonya Cobb
  3. Straight White Male by John Niven
  4. Liberty’s Torch by Elizabeth Mitchell
  5. The Walled City by Ryan Graudin
  6. What Do You Do with An Idea? by Kobi Yamada (Read it, loved it, glad he gave me a copy for my nephew, too.)
  7. On Immunity by Eula Biss
  8. Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talleh
  9. We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas
  10. Neverhome by Laird Hunt
  11. King Dork Approximately by Frank Portman
  12. The David Foster Wallace Reader
  13. Reunion by Hannah Pittard
  14. The Story Hour by Thrity Umrigar
  15. The Great Escape by Andrew Steinmetz
  16. The Giver by Lois Lowry
  17. The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace by Jeff Hobbs
  18. Epilogue by Will Boast
  19. Letters to a Birmingham Jail
  20. Soldier of Change by Stephen Snyder-Hill
  21. File Under: 13 Suspicious Incidents by Lemony Snickett
  22. Chakra Meditation by Swami Sadadananda
  23. Mo’s Mustache by Ben Clanton (Read and ready to send to my little nephew!)
  24. Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin
  25. This Is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper
  26. So We Read On by Maureen Corrigan
  27. Terminal City by Linda Fairstein (Picked up for my aunt, still sitting in my bedroom. Oops.)
  28. The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton
  29. Fire Shut Up in My Bones by Charles M. Blow
  30. The Republic of Imagination by Azar Nafisi
  31. The Secret Wisdom of the Earth by Christopher Scotton
  32. Goodnight June by Sarah Jio
  33. Wild Idea: Buffalo & Family in a Difficult Land by Dan O’Brien (I actually had to leave my copy at BEA because I couldn’t carry any more books, but I re-acquired it at Church Street’s Book Hangout last week. Hurrah!)
  34. The Elements of Style Illustrated by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White (Purchased at The Strand)
  35. Writers on Writing (Purchased at The Strand)
  36. Love, Loss and What I Wore by Nora and Delia Ephron (Purchased at The Strand)
  37. Only As Good As Your Word by Susan Shapiro (Purchased at The Strand; this was the one book I bought that I didn’t set out to find. What a happy surprise! I have enjoyed Susan Shapiro’s work in the past, and while on the flight to New York I read a Writer’s Digest article that mentioned her.)
  38. Still Writing by Dani Shapiro (Purchased at The Strand)
  39. The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta (I found this in a freebie pile at the office–we receive more books than we can possibly write anything about–and snagged it because the commercials for the new HBO show had been creeping me out. I’m about halfway through and intrigued.)
  40. Your Fathers, Where are They? And the Prophets, Do They Live Forever? by Dave Eggers (Also found in the freebie pile in the office. I’m intrigued by Eggers and I would, of course, like to have a career in which I too can write across a variety of genres and find success.)
  41. My Conference Can Beat Your Conference by Paul Finebaum (SEC! SEC! SEC!)
  42. The Public Library: A Photographic Essay by Robert Dawson (A library book, but one I’m likely to end up purchasing for myself.)
  43. The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon by Brad Stone (Also a library book, but worth mentioning.)


Filed under Autobiography, Reading

The dream that you wish will come true

0704 Baby Plays Around RelevantWhen I was 10 years old, I decided I wanted to make my living as a writer. Thirteen years later, I saw my name in print at the end of my first paid, professional clip.

My journalism professors at the University of Alabama often encouraged us to pitch story ideas to a range of publications, even if those ideas were developed in the classroom. I’ve never been particularly quick to step up and tell someone why I deserve their attention, and so interviewing folks for those classroom assignments was intimidating. (I still get nervous before many interviews, even a decade later!) Approaching editors about publishing my work was even more so.

But my spring 2004 review writing class, taught by Alabama Public Radio book reviewer and University of Alabama professor emeritus Don Noble, left me with plenty of material. Dr. Noble required us to review something weekly; sometimes our focus was restaurants, sometimes books, other times, music. I sent several of my assignments on to the student newspaper, The Crimson White. And I suspected I could do more still.

Getting published in Relevant magazine was one of my goals, and so I sent an email out into the ether, pitching a book review I wrote for class. After a round of heavy editing, which cut the review from several hundred words to about 50, my first national piece was ready to go. I was interning in Orlando when the magazine finally hit stands, and my friends shared in my excitement. The paycheck wasn’t much ($10, if memory serves), but I was still thrilled to be compensated for doing something I loved.

Ten years later, I still write about both books and music. Although seeing my name in print has become a regular occasion, the thrill never wears off.

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What I’m writing: June 2014

These are stories I wrote that were published this month.

Meet Birmingham magazine Account Executive Rebecca Garner

rebeccaBirmingham magazine Account Executive Rebecca Garner lived in New Mexico and Hawaii before making her home in Alabama. This University of New Mexico alumna resides in Odenville with her husband, who is in the Air Force, her 14-year-old stepson and 3-year-old daughter. Wherever life has taken her, though, Rebecca has found success working in sales for magazines, newspapers and commercial printing. Read more “Meet Birmingham magazine Account Executive Rebecca Garner” at

Life after Book Expo America

readersIt’s been more than a week since I returned from Book Expo America, and I’m starting to feel as though I can answer people’s enthusiastic inquiries about the experience. Part of that period of radio silence has been because I came home with a sinus infection, but it’s also because I just needed time to digest the event.
I went to BEA with few goals in mind. Since this was my first year, I knew I would be overwhelmed. I didn’t really know what I would get from the event, so I set my expectations low. I planned to show up, hoped to get Ann M. Martin’s autograph and wanted to walk away with some free books and insight into the publishing industry. Read more “Life after Book Expo America” at

Indian Springs School shines as ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ reaches meteoric levels

tfiosIndian Springs School has had many turns in the limelight, and it’s stepping into familiar territory again, thanks to John Green’s “The Fault in Our Stars.” The movie adaptation of the Springs graduate’s novel was the No.1 film at the box office during its debut weekend, and author Green’s name has been all over the media as a result.

Green is only one of a number of notable Springs alumni; others include fellow author Daniel Alarcon, director John Badham, Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia CEO and president Charles Plosser, Continental Bakery owner Carole Griffin, “Game of Thrones” TV show writer David Hill, Russell Lands chairman and CEO Ben Russell and many more. Read more “Indian Springs School shines as ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ reaches meteoric levels” at

I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You: To win back a lost love

I am having so much fun here without youRichard Haddon has screwed up royally with his wife, and he’ll do anything to get her back.

Richard, a British contemporary artist, met his near-perfect French wife while enrolled at the Rhode Island School of Design. From the moment he spotted Anne-Laure de Bourigeaud, Richard was convinced that she was the woman for him. Shortly after they married, Anne became pregnant, and their relationship served as the inspiration for one of Richard’s greatest paintings, “The Blue Bear.” Read more “I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You” at

Behind the Lyrics: Lee Bains III’s love of Southern literature is reflected in his songwriting

bainsHe’s been around the Birmingham music scene for a long time, but with the 2012 release of Lee Bains III & the Glory Fires’ debut album, “There’s a Bomb in Gilead,” Bains unleashed his songwriting on listeners’ ears. The former member of the Dexateens and Arkadelphia is back with “Dereconstructed,” the Glory Fires’ second album and debut on the SubPop label.
This time around, Bains and the band have cranked up the volume. “Dereconstructed” is a rocker throughout, portraying the band’s level of comfort on stage and the intimate setting in which they recorded. “It was super loud, so there are guitars in the drum mikes and there are drums in the guitar-amp mikes. Those are all purposeful decisions we made, but they were all geared toward creating a more visceral kind of sound,” Bains says. Read more “Behind the Lyrics” at

The Highlight of Book Expo? Love of Story.

me and carrieDuring our walk back to day two of BEA following a long, quiet lunch, my friend Trisha asked my impression of the event so far. As managing editor of BookPage (where you can regularly find my book reviews!), she’s a BEA vet. But this was my first year to attend the massive publishing industry event, which is both awesome and overwhelming.
I’m accustomed to magazine conferences, thanks to my full-time job as managing editor of Birmingham magazine. I love those gatherings; I’m a big believer in journalism and its value, and such gatherings often encourage and challenge me. Read more “The Highlight of Book Expo” at

Want more? Visit my “What I’m writing” Pinterest board.

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Pre-order my book, “Muscle Shoals Sound Studio: How the Swampers Changed American Music”

Muscle Shoals Sound Studio coverWe’re one month away from the release of “Muscle Shoals Sound Studio: How the Swampers Changed American Music,” a history of one of northwest Alabama’s legendary recording studios. That means there’s plenty of time for pre-orders! Here are your options:

  1. Alabama Booksmith: My first book signing will be at Alabama Booksmith on July 21 at 4 p.m. I’m thrilled to kick off the book there! Jake Reiss cultivates relationships with authors and readers alike, and every visit to his store is a treat. (Every book on the Booksmith’s shelves is autographed! Bonus.) And although it has absolutely nothing to do with me and my book, I’m excited for the “Mockingbird” event the Booksmith will host on July 23 at the Alabama Theatre. Won’t you join me?
  2. Church Street Coffee and Books: I’m a big fan of local bookstores, and I’m grateful that one of mine has partnered with me in the pre-order process. If you’re into autographed books, this is another great option; when you order, leave a note indicating that you’d like the book autographed, and I’ll do so before it’s sent your way.
  3. The History Press: You can also order the book directly from the publisher. They’d love it if you left a nice comment about the book, whether you buy it from them or elsewhere.
  4. Barnes and Noble: One of the great things about working with The History Press is their distribution relationships; my book will available at Barnes and Noble and Books-A-Million locations. (Sorry, Mom and Dad–it will likely be readily available in Alabama, but I can’t promise it’ll be on the shelves everywhere.)
  5. Books-A-Million: It’s one of the nation’s largest bookstores, but Books-A-Million also supports my local economy, as it’s based in Birmingham, Ala.
  6. Amazon: Be sure to check out my author page while you’re there. (I’m tickled to bits to have an author page!)

If you’re more inclined to borrow a book from your local library, I would love for you to check my book out! It isn’t yet available for request in my library system, but I do hope they’ll have it on the shelves of at least one location. I am a big believer in the value of libraries, and I would be honored if you checked my book out from yours.

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The yoga of being there

I had hoped to attend at least one yoga class while I was in New York last month. I’ve got to review several classes as part of my yoga teacher training, and I thought it would be intriguing to see how things were done in another part of the country. So I asked my regular teacher for recommendations, jotted down the studio and teacher she suggested and tentatively planned to zip from my conference to a little downward dog action.

It didn’t happen.

There are a number of reasons, and what I thought would be the biggest (the studio’s location in relation to the conference, which wasn’t especially convenient) turned out to be the least of my worries. I spent two days on my feet surrounded my tens of thousands of other people. I was wiped by the end of each day, and the last thing I needed was a physically challenging asana practice.

But as any teacher trainee or relatively dedicated yogi would tell you, asana is only one part of yoga.

I had plenty of opportunity to focus on yoga’s other aspects (and, OK, even a little asana) during Book Expo America. I spent a great deal of time focused on my breath, trying to stay calm in the midst of an overstimulating environment. I tried to let outside distractions fall away and turn my focus inward. And I spent a great deal of time in tadasana, or mountain pose, attempting to root my feet into the ground, lift my inner arches and support my spine with my core muscles, even as I waited in line for nearly an hour in some cases to meet various authors.

I love the asana practice, and it’s what drew me–and so many others–to yoga. But there’s so much more happening on my mat than my bending into funny postures. And although my body ached at the end of a few days of BEA, I’m always grateful for the reminder that there’s more to yoga than downward facing dog.

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