FRIDAY, APRIL 13, 2012 |
Posted by: Malcolm Donaldson
Well, that was quick.
At the beginning of the year, Alabama Shakes were only known for their brief and promising EP (released last summer). Now, with their first full length Boys & Girls the quartet has taken off in a big way-- and in this case, the music absolutely backs up the hype. Boys & Girls is centered around the voice of Brittany Howard, so soulfully worn that it seems impossible that she's only 23 years old. Her vocals are reminiscent of Aretha Franklin, Diana Ross and Janis Joplin, with a performing style that's happily familiar to Otis Redding. Her voice is the crucial ingredient in the band that makes these tried and true chord progressions and melodies new again-- it makes you rock, swoon, and cry, leaving your vital organs like putty in her hands.
From there, classic R&B guitar riffage by Heath Fogg and expert bass work from Zac Cockrell provide a foundation for Howard's voice. Steve Johnson's drumming is jagged and unlearned, but it works well for Alabama Shakes-- his basic 4/4 beat on the introductory single "Hold On" is played with earnest passion that matches the rest of the group. The band shows that they're more than a one trick pony on Boys & Girls, with songs like the swaying compound-time anthem "You Ain't Alone" hitting just as hard as rockers like "Hang Loose" and "Rise to the Sun." Howard's voice, with the power of her backing band, carries a phrase like, "You ain't alone/ so why are you lonely?" so that the words on the surface signal an incredible depth of emotion. It's not as easy as it sounds.
The familiar forms in these songs are brand new in the Shakes' hands, so it seems they aren't reappropriating or quoting any old styles-- just playing true soul music. Boys & Girls shows the outrageous potential that the Alabama Shakes have in front of them to revitalize the genre. The eleven songs on their debut LP all seem to end all too quickly, but we're sure this foursome is going to last for many summer festival seasons to come.