Album Review: Alabama Shakes | Boys & Girls

Alabama Shakes – Boys and Girls (ATO Records, 2012)

About two months ago, I emailed my father to tell him to check out the Alabama Shakes.  “Our new favorite band,” I predicted.  On April 10, 2012, the Alabama Shakes released their debut album Boys & Girls.  Most bands don’t make it.  For other bands, it takes a couple albums, or more, to gain notoriety.  Just take a look at The Black Keys’ journey.  But, The Alabama Shakes were booked to open for Jack White before this album was even released.  If you’re opening for Jack, does that mean you must be good?  Yes.  And, the Athens, Alabama band proceeded to debut at number three on the UK Album Charts (NME).

I first came across the Alabama Shakes by stumbling upon them online at NPR Music.  My most common phrase, I need new music, was answered.  I pressed play to a video of the band playing their single Hold On and was transported back in time.  Vocalist Brittany Howard’s voice has been compared to Janis Joplin’s, Robert Plant’s, Otis Redding’s and Aretha Franklin’s.  When I first heard her sing, I also saw her sing, and thought Macy Gray got a soul/blues band to play with.  Nevertheless, quite a catalog of compliments.  Howard has heard the comparisons and is flatter, but thought to herself, “Bon Scott from AC/DC” as far as how it feels to sing (NPR Music).

After listening for the past month to Boys and Girls on NPR’s First Listen, I finally swiped my debit to make an actual CD purchase – at a CD store!  I love previewing albums online, but the actual CD has a much fuller sound.  Online you hear a radio sound and the instrumentation can be drowned out.  That might be the reason I was skeptical of the rest of the band at first.

At first sound, from the first track Hold On, Howard sang, “Bless my heart, bless my soul, didn’t think I’d make it to 22 years old”, and I was hooked.  It was immediately apparent that Brittany Howard was a star.  But, after the first few listens to the whole album, the instrumentation didn’t seem to be anything special.  Then, I bought the album and Brittany’s opinion about songwriting was realized, and I’ll apply it to the band’s sound.  In a recent interview with NME, she said, “A lot of people want to be different…want to be original, instead of just writing songs together as people and being sincere about it.”

I have often said that it really isn’t all that difficult to tell whether a band or musician cares about the music they’re creating.  The Alabama Shakes’ instrumentation is simple, yet effective, and yes, sincereBoys and Girls is a very strong debut album.  Its tempo is balanced and makes for a great listen for whatever mood you’re in.  It will be interesting to see where the Alabama Shakes take their sound.  Comparisons have also been made to Amy Winehouse, yet with more of a rocknroll sound and attitude.  I know I will be checking them out this summer at Central Park SummerStage – for free on June 24th!  Check them out soon because they won’t be needing to open for Jack White much longer.

The Alabama Shakes are made up of: Brittany Howard (vocals/guitar/piano/percussion), Zac Cockrell (bass/backing vocals/guitar), Heath Fogg (guitar/backing vocals/percussion) and Steve Johnson (drums/percussion/backing vocals).

Check out their website for upcoming shows: http://www.alabamashakes.com/tour/

– Review by Garrett D. Kennedy