Hailing from northern Alabama, blues-rock outfit Alabama Shakes is creating quite a stir with their debut release Boys & Girls—and with good reason. With about a dozen songs, this previously little-known band has recaptured the spirit that has driven American rock music for the past 50 years, garnering public praise from the likes of Jack White, Robert Plant and Bon Iver, and shout-out tweets from Neko Case and Haylee Williams.
With a sound that takes us back to the days when Lynnrd Skynnrd and their peers were putting Muscle Shoals, Alabama on the map, Alabama Shakes breathes a fresh passion into southern-fried rock and blues that hasn’t been heard, in my opinion, since the early 1970s. Listening to the record, between the moans and bluesy screams of the opening track “Hold On,” and the waltzy “Heartbreakers” through the melancholia of the title track “Boys & Girls,” to the unfettered passion at the end of “Be Mine,” I kept wishing I was listening to this band play live on a humid summer Alabama evening in some dive, sweating and eating fried chicken.
Though comparisons will no doubt be made to bands like The Black Keys and The White Stripes, I hear Alabama Shakes (for lack of a better term) in a more “authentic” vein. While the bands mentioned above draw from roots/rock influences, their sound is still “modern” somehow. By contrast, while the songs themselves are originals, Alabama Shakes literally sounds like they stepped out of a time machine, to the point that even defining them as “retro” doesn’t do justice to what you hear.
So to be clear, the appeal of Boys & Girls isn’t that it is particularly groundbreaking; far from it. This record is just about as entrenched in the sounds of the past as a record could be. Rather, what makes this record great is a blend of passion and spectacular musicianship, overlaid by the stellar vocals of frontwoman Brittany Howard. At different times soft and ladylike, then growling like a man, then screaming like a rockstar, Howard shows incredible range, and does the genre proud.
Creating a band so rooted in the past can be very risky, for the simple reason that it’s been done before. As it is, Alabama Shakes has done it so well that you can’t help but stand up and take notice. Far from being an experiment gone bad, this band has done more than take us back in time; they have reminded us of why rock and blues are so significant to our culture, why we make music in the first place, and why we need to continue to make it. For that reason, Boys & Girls is a must-listen for any fan of music—highly recommended.
ALBUM RATING: 5 Stars (out of five)