Frontier Psychiatrist

Sweet Home: A Review of Alabama Shakes, Boys and Girls

Posted on: April 12, 2012

Alabama Shakes, Boys and Girls

In January, Patterson Hood of the Drive-By Truckers was quoted in Rolling Stone as saying  “If [Alabama Shakes] don’t fuck up and take a wrong turn, I can’t imagine how good they could be.” For months, people have been waiting for the release of the debut album by this much buzzed-about band, and track after track, Alabama Shakes deliver big on Boys and Girls, due out on April 10. It’s impressive that this young band was able to live up to the hype that surrounded them and this release, perhaps the most anticipated debut album release in recent memory. The eleven tracks that make up the album come in at just over 36 minutes, but those 36minutes are packed full of the transformative power of music—the kind that can lift you out of your life, make you forget your small concerns, and shake your hips.

Vocalist and guitarist Brittany Howard’s soaring voice seems to let it all go, allowing listeners to lose themselves in the atmosphere of the songs. The rest of the band, comprised of Heath Fogg on guitar, Zac Cockrell on bass, and Steve Johnson on drums, is tight. Their playing is solid and perfectly accompanies Howard’s vocals. Comparisons could be drawn to studio bands like Muscle Shoals’ The Swampers, Motown’s Funk Brothers, and L.A.’s The Wrecking Crew, who helped create the wall of sound for Phil Spector’s girl groups. However, that’s not to say Fogg, Cockrell, and Johnson are just backing musicians. It’s clear Alabama Shakes is a fully-functioning band where each member contributes, but the music contains a subtlety that allows the spotlight to shine on Howard’s vocals.

The album opens with the one-two punch of “Hold On” and “I Found You.” “Hold On,” which also appears on their self-released four song EP, is so strong that it could be detrimental to open with, but thankfully, the group doesn’t let down anywhere on the album. “Hold On” opens with a rhythm that will have listeners swaying side-to-side before Howard’s opening lines: “Bless my heart / Bless my soul / Didn’t think I’d make it to twenty-two years old.” “I Found You” opens a little slower but builds up as the song progresses. The Motown influence shines through strongly on this track.

Much can be said about the Alabama Shakes’ influences, which range from soul and blues to rock. The power and let-it-all-go range of Howard’s voice recalls Janis Joplin, while at times the phrasing is reminiscent of Amy Winehouse, and there’s even something of Macy Gray in the opening of “Rise to the Sun.” There are also echoes of southern artists and groups throughout the album, including Otis Redding, Drive-By Truckers, and Black Crowes. Overall there seems to be a real joy and love for music that comes through, and the rich texture creates a fullness of sound—it’s tightly controlled but feels like it could burst at the seams.

The fifth track, “You Ain’t Alone” slows the album down after a strong start. The song begins as a slow dance, but part way through it crescendos and Howard’s vocals soar, demonstrating the kind of freewheeling range and power that made Janis Joplin legendary.

Even “I Ain’t the Same,” a song about growing up and losing the childhood feeling of freedom, has a carefree/feel good mood.

Still in their early twenties, this band could have a long life ahead of them. As Howard sings in “Hold On,” I don’t know where I’m going to go / What I’m going to do.” And while that may be true, I can’t help but feel, based on the strength and maturity demonstrated on Boys and Girls, that their future looks promising.

Gina Myers is the author of A Model Year (Coconut Books, 2009) and an occasional contributor to Frontier Psychiatrist. She recently interviewed Justin Sirois, author of the new novel Falcons on the Floor. She lives in Atlanta.


3 Responses to "Sweet Home: A Review of Alabama Shakes, Boys and Girls"

[…] (Coconut Books, 2009) and a regular contributor to Frontier Psychiatrist. She recently reviewed Alabama Shakes’ Boys & Girls. She lives in Atlanta. Share this:ShareEmailTwitterFacebookRedditStumbleUponYahoo BuzzDiggLike […]

[…] to Frontier Psychiatrist. She recently interviewed the author Brian Oliu and reviewed the Alabama Shakes album Boys & Girls. She lives in Atlanta. Share this:ShareEmailTwitterFacebookRedditStumbleUponYahoo […]

[…] this year’s festival stretched the folk label to include such acts as My Morning Jacket and Alabama Shakes. To the conservatives this may seem like a step in the wrong direction, but the audience definitely […]

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