Alabama Shakes - Boys & Girls (5 stars)
A short time after reading that article I saw that Jack White's Third Man Records label was putting out a live release of Alabama Shakes. Admittedly, I became intrigued in a "Well, if he likes them I really need to check them out" kind of deal. I spent the next few weeks obliterating the replay button on any videos I could find featuring the band on YouTube. At the time, they only had a four song EP out and I kick myself for not picking it up because it is no longer available.
It contained four tracks: "Hold On," "I Found You," "On Your Way" and "You Ain't Alone." It was a small sample, but it was just enough to show that the band had all the ingredients to make them stand out.
For one, the music doesn't pigeon-hole itself to one genre, but it's not all over the place either. If you had to describe it with musical tones, maybe the best would be classic bluesy southern rock for the 21st century.
The EP left me and a plethora of other fans (including Hayley Williams and anybody who has had the chance to see them live) waiting for the release of a full length album, which came just a couple weeks ago.
There were fears that the album wouldn't live up to the hype, which is crazy when you think about. Most bands breaking in have to spend years touring on a debut album before you start to get recognized, but the Shakes seemed to be working in reverse.
Those fears were gone not even ten minutes into Boys & Girls. A non-EP song doesn't make it's debut until track 3 but the presence of "Hang Loose" is definitely felt as the band turns it up a notch.
"Rise to the Sun" and "Heartbreaker" are also stand out tracks that show the vocal range of Brittany Howard, who is clearly the star of the show. It's too early to tell if that's going to be a detriment to the band as a whole, which would be a shame because the three guys rounding out the Shakes are obviously talented.
But Howard pulls you in with the strain in her voice and her storytelling, even namedropping herself in "Hold On." An early favorite for me was "Be Mine" where an F bomb is subtly dropped toward the end of the second verse, the only time the band takes the vocals beyond a PG level. But it's used so well that it only gets you even more wrapped up in the song.
A lot can be said that in an 11-track album there is only one weak song, "Going to the Party." Even more can be said that its main weakness is its length, clocking in at just under two minutes. But in the grand scheme of things it serves as sort of a breather in an album full of powerful tracks.
Part Janis Joplin, part Black Keys, part Otis Redding and part Led Zeppelin (click the text for an amazing cover), The Alabama Shakes combine similar sounds to make a whole new one themselves. From beginning to end, Boys & Girls is an album that you absolutely feel when you listen to it, which is rare in music nowadays.
Also, admittedly there is a bit of bias because the band resides only a couple hours from where I live. When "homestate" artists get on a national spotlight, it's vital to support them. It's nicer when those artists are this amazing.
So if you haven't already, pick up this album and prepare to go on a musical journey. You won't be disappointed.