Boys and Girls
The debut from Alabama Shakes is an exhilarating mix of soul, blues, and garage rock, elevated by the extraordinary and powerful vocals of Brittany Howard.
The first thing you notice about the debut release from Alabama Shakes is a swampy rhythm section and raw guitar licks, but it is the distinctive voice of Brittany Howard that sets the tone for this band and album. Howard is the Mack Truck of singers. Even when she’s idling you sense the power of her voice. When she shifts to overdrive get out of her way because this gal isn’t breaking for anyone. Make no mistake about it – Brittany Howard is a one of a kind talent and her band is pretty damned amazing.
Howard and bassist Zac Cockrell formed Alabama Shakes in 2009 and recruited guitarist Heath Fogg and drummer Steve Johnson from other band. The quartet began playing local bars and honing their skills by playing covers of everything from Black Sabbath to Otis Redding. Influences from this wide range of material informed the band’s original songs. Boys and Girls is ripe with references to Muscle Shoals, southern rocks, and classic rock of the 1970’s. You’re just as likely to think of Led Zeppelin as James Brown as you prowl through the 11 tracks on the disc. And if you’re not feeling a sweaty summer night of your youth while digging into these tracks, then you’ve lost touch with something special.
Alabama Shakes sound is a combination of low-fi garage rock, gritty soul and blues, and gutsy rock. The songs, written as band collaborations, are unfettered by production but packed with passion. Each member exhibit’s his or her understanding of the genres and history of the music. Each knows when to hold back or to through down that extra volt of energy but it is Howard that really shoots each song into the stratosphere. She can coo like Aretha on “You Ain’t Alone, she can howl with the ragged emotion of Janis Joplin on “Heartbreaker,” or break your heart with Otis Redding like phrasing on the title track “Boys and Girls.” Howard has stated that she most identifies her vocals with that of Bon Scott of AC/DC. Check out the ending of “Be Mine” and you’ll get the reference. She throws in a bit of Prince-like falsetto on “I Ain’t the Same.”
Although Howard has won acclaim for her vocals, don’t overlook her guitar playing. For that matter, all the band members deserve credit for their crisp, clean playing. Their songs are love songs, focusing on the way love feels when you’re young and emotions swing quickly from one extreme to another. Love is glorious one minute, and devastating in the next. Alabama Shakes take you on that roller coaster ride and make it worth the price of the ticket. Fasten your seat belt and get ready to throw your hands up. Boys and Girls is an exhilarating ride.