May
4

The Timing Is Good For Alabama Shakes’ “Boys & Girls”

May 4, 2012 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  15 Comments

The current landscape of hip American music is like a lyric out of a classic Bob Dylan song about the changing times. Old is new, and nerdy is cool. It is in this environment that the Alabama Shakes have flourished like the imperceptible germs on the tips of your fingers when rubbed into a Petri dish and left to fester. A style that notched a bullseye smack dab in the middle of the wave of current popular appeal without sacrificing artistic purpose is the reason The Alabama Shakes are becoming an American music success story we can actually be proud of for once.

This rootsy, soulful rock band is bound together by the force known as Brittany Howard, part Janis Joplin, part Kimya Dawson, both poetic, and fanatically possessed. Whenever I think of the true embodiment of the word “soul” I think of an old black woman. Whether it’s an old black female singer, or young white male guitar player, if they truly want to have soul, they must have an old black woman trapped inside of them somewhere, with 1,000 injustices fighting back tears in world-torn eyes, and infinite wisdom bred from bad choices by the self and others. Soul is anger only semi-controlled, and that is what Brittany Howard has. (“I’ll fight the planet!” she proclaims in the song “Heartbreaker”. )

This is backed up by the rest of The Shakes, a solid group of musicians who know how to flesh out the vintage vibe Brittany’s original compositions are written to convey. This is a very youthful, energetic-sounding album, which is refreshing to hear coming from roots circles that generally are dominated by post-punk or indie rock-converted 30-somethings studying under gray-haired alt-country elders. The Alabama Shakes sound only a few steps outside of the garage, and that’s a great approach to hear with music that is textured to feel aged.

This their first full length album Boys & Girls has some fun moments and some rocking moments that really touch on a groove, and then some very deep, tearful moments. It is exquisitely arranged where Brittney is never buried by anything else going on, though even if the mix was imbalanced, it would still be impossible not to be drawn to her presence in the music. I guess you would call that magnetic. In such a shallow, simple-minded world, she would command a room full of magazine models. Brittney is bold; a power generator of a human earth being.

The best part about Boys & Girls is the promise you can hear in this music. Man, I love when you can hear promise, when you can enjoy how good the music is here and now, but also spy the branches where something even better will spring from.

There’s nothing really country about The Alabama Shakes, though some country foundations are there if you listen deep. And with their soul and roots sound, you could slip them between a Wayne “The Train” Hancock and Scott H. Biram on a bill and nary an eyelash would be batted. Maybe a guilty pleasure for some country fans, certainly a better music choice for the masses, we shall see what fate awaits The Alabama Shakes as the fickle winds of style and appeal blow back and forth in the American conscious. We will also see if any band or scene or style is big enough to contain Brittany Howard, or if she will burn too bright to sustain.

The Alabama Shakes are not for everyone, but I struggle to find a wart to point at.

Two guns up!

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15 Comments to “The Timing Is Good For Alabama Shakes’ “Boys & Girls””

  • Not really my cup of tea, if you will, but It does give me a sense of hope. They play their own instruments and they write/sing their own songs… it is a step in the right direction. I wish them all the best..

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    • I can totally understand if the Alabama Shakes aren’t someone’s cup of tea, but giving them credit for playing their own instruments seems like a little bit of a reduction for a band of their caliber. I would reserve such comments for a band like Hanson for example, which believe it or not is still around and tours heavily (so maybe there is no sense of hope :( ).

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  • it’s got a nice 60′s mowtown or stax flavor to it. probably more so stax. good stuff.

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  • Really surprised (pleasantly) that you’re familiar with Kimya Dawson.

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    • I really liked that song Kimya Dawson did with Aesop Rock recently. I really need to check out a Moldy Peaches album.

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  • Triggerman,is this Alabama Shakes record a “suck you in on the first listen” or a “takes a couple listens to appreciate” album? i’ve read some mixed reviews on it and either people love it or seem to be completely indifferent to it. i wanna know if i should buy it new or wait until it hits the cheapy bin.

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    • In a nutshell, if you like rock with soul, buy this shit.

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    • Gosh, you’re putting me on the spot man. $5 from Amazon for the files is probably as cheap as it’s gonna get, unless you don’t like files, then no price is cheap enough. I think The Alabama Shakes has staying power. Most if not all of the reviews I’ve read have been positive. One of the reasons you may see negative stuff is because they’ve gotten really popular really quit with few dues paid, and sometimes that creates blowback. I dig them.

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      • ..yeah i’m definately am a physical copy kind of guy. the artwork and liner notes are just as important to me as the music. i’m a frugal music shopper too,i can usally wait until a used copy pops up if i’m unsure about something. but hey,if you guys say it’s good,fuck it..i’m gonna pick it…grab that Lumineers too.

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  • They’ve been playing “Hold On” on the radio at work probably 10 times a day. It never hit me that was a female singer. Not a bad tune compared to the other stuff the radio plays all day. I like the video of the song posted here.

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  • Does anyone else think the main riff from “Hold On” almost has a Waylon sound to it?

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  • I saw AS open for the Truckers and really enjoyed their show. Bought the album because of seeing them. But – and nothing against them – the album didn’t live up to what I was expecting after having seen them live. There’s a couple of songs I like pretty well, but I don’t find myself itching to listen to the album over and over. Maybe they’re one of those bands that’s best experienced live…

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  • Still wrapping my head around this lp. I find the best stuff often takes a while to sink in, and after a half dozen listens I think I’m starting to get it. “Hold on” is getting stuck in my head in a good way.

    Nice blog BTW. Found it searching for info on Rusty Wier after I found one of his lps at a local thrift. I doubt I’ll agree with you every time out, but like most of the better critics you give a good base to start listening. Thanks!

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  • Just got my copy in the mail today. Right off the bat, I’m a bit disappointed in the version of Hold On. Not nearly as strong as the one shown in the video. For one, vocals are much more restrained on the album version. The video version gives me chills. Of course, part of that is watching Brittany Howard sing.

    I hear they’re a force of nature live.

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    • Happy with the album, though. Listened to it all the through last night. And there are some real good unhinged moments on it.

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