Artist: Alabama Shakes
Album:Boys & Girls
Genre: Classic rock, soul, blues
Label: ATO Records (North America)/Rough Trade Records (world)
Note the name Alabama Shakes immediately, if you haven’t already heard it. This band is important. Purveyors of gorgeously nostalgic, evocative rock and roll, they have the potential to become something huge and wonderful and after one listen of this debut full-length you’ll want to swept along with them. Their sound is natural, sincere, and organic – they made up the lyrics to the album opener on the spot during a live performance and have rightly won devoted audiences for this flair and musicianship. The band is led by a phenomenal frontwoman in Brittany Howard, whose powerful and androgynous voice steers the music with the confidence of a wise old soul. It mixes elements of classic rock, soul, r’n’b, and even a touch of country for something unique yet perfectly familiar.
It is unsurprising that Alabama Shakes have already caught Jack White’s attention (the band is to launch a number of singles through his Third Man label). They encapsulate a lot of what made The White Stripes so popular, but have a more widely appealing and very accessible sound that boasts the taste and class of classic rock and roll. Such is evident from the smooth, seductive rhythm of “Hold On,” which draws the listener in easily with its even beat and exemplary guitar work. It is confident and elegant, striding firmly into the jubilant “I Found You.” An early stand out, this track has a lightness and harmony that’s consuming. The music is spirited, the vocals beaming, and it builds to a rivetingly triumphant crescendo that could knock you clean off your feet. Upbeat sentiments course throughout Boys and Girls – bar the occasional glimpse within, it’s a gleaming and enthusiastic album whose charms stem from its infectious outlook on life. “Hang Loose” comes straight from the heart, with a giddy guitar/piano interplay. “Rise to the Sun” is more contemplative, with a slower, jazzier character reminiscent of the late Amy Winehouse. The music is sprawling, with the brawling guitars maintaining power and bite as the vocals peter out.
“You Ain’t Alone” is a more personal track. The piano notes are luscious, but it’s earthier and more troubled. The lyrics address fearful emotions and uncertainty, managing to capture something personal in a very authentic tone. The album seems barer during tracks like this, cautioning its warmer sentiments with temperate moments of weakness. “Heartbreaker”’s delicate piano and tempestuous lyrics also hint at fragility, though they contrast with the momentous swells of the drum and seductive sway of the music. “Boys & Girls” is a slow-burning and thoughtful evocation of the mood and style of years past. Howard is subtle and underplayed, her vocals infusing the song with a serenely romantic air. “On Your Way” exposes this tenderness and fragility in the instruments for the first time. It has a searching shyness and vulnerability that never abates, even as the music converges. The lyrics hint at regrets and even bitterness but in a discreet manner. They use brief moments of silence between verses to shake the robust music. There’s a reassuring lilt in the notes, but Howard’s grim solemnity ensures the song never loses its shadow.
“Heavy Chevy” revisits the stimulating passion of the album’s first half so that the album has a bright ending. Its chirpy swagger lovingly recreates the carefree air of old rock and roll and highlights the strength of the band’s appeal – something modern and dazzling, rooted in the warmth and comfortable familiarity of yesteryear.
Alabama Shakes have made such impressive waves with this debut album that it’s difficult to imagine how they could top it. Yet, their ear for music hints at a huge potential that will take years to fully realise. Immerse yourself in the glories of Boys & Girls as soon as you can, and join this breathtaking party from the off.
Review written by Grace Duffy