This past April we saw the release of Boys & Girls, the debut LP from Alabama Shakes, the female fronted rock/soul band from Athens, Alabama and since then they’ve been enjoying the ride. They’ve appeared on Conan, The Late Show with David Letterman, and Later… with Jools Holland, the latter also featuring Jack White on the program, a coincidence of cosmic proportions. The band, consisting of lead singer/guitarist Brittany Howard, guitarist Heath Fogg, bassist Zac Cockrell, and drummer Steve Johnson, started off as a cover band playing reworked versions of songs by Led Zeppelin, James Brown, Otis Redding and AC/DC. Just one listen to the album and it’s clear how all these influences fit into their sound.
The classic soul influence is the most prominent on this debut with the Steve Cropper style riff in opener “Hold On” that provides the perfect lead in for Howard’s raspy, rough around the edges but smooth on the inside voice. And it continues from there, the Motown flavored “I Found You” begins with the “Try A Little Tenderness” drumbeat and adds swirling organs that help escalate the chorus to it’s proper pedestal of emotion. “You Ain’t Alone”, a piano driven ballad that really allows Howard to show you the power and range of her voice, from the intimate beginning to her belting it out on the second chorus. The songs ends with the sing-along “You, you ain’t alone/Just let me be/Your ticket home” and Howard hitting a falsetto that would even make Prince say ‘ugh!’.
Even though Howard is clearly the centerpiece with her voice, the band is a workhorse of a rhythm section. Cockrell’s bass lines are pure James Jamerson meets John Paul Jones, providing runs and fills at the perfect moment. And rhythm guitarist Fogg has a flawless encyclopedia of R&B chops. You finally get a taste of their rock influence towards the end of the album. “Be Mine”, has Howard channeling Robert Plant in his latter Zeppelin days and the song is just great, a perfect verse to chorus transition. The line “All these ladies don’t know you like I do/That’s why I call you my baby” is said right before the band breaks into a killer outro, going full force with every instrument. The Rolling Stones style rocker “I Ain’t the Same”, has me hooked from start to finish. It’s uptempo feel mixed with bluesy guitar licks spattered throughout would have been an easy hit for Mick & Co. back in the 70’s. To compare Howard’s voice to Janis Joplin is all too easy and almost a cop out because there are so many more singers in there and probably many more to come out.
They sound great for a first recording (one that was done live in the studio), not too overly produced and just the right amount of looseness. You just know that their live shows are incredible, you can’t sing the way she does without bringing a lot of energy to the stage. They sold out Boston’s Paradise Rock Club back in the winter and just recently did the same at The House of Blues in Boston. They are currently on tour playing shows in both the U.S. and overseas. They come to the hub on October 5th and you can find tickets for that as well as other shows over here.