By SHAUN R. SMITH
The Alabama Shakes has filled a void in my musical world. Blending a groovy bluesy motown sound with the sultry voice of singer/guitarist Brittany Howard, the band’s debut album “Boys & Girls” is a unique, emotional and danceable.
The combination of Howard, Zac Cockrell on bass, guitarist Heath Fogg and drummer Steve Johnson make up the band, fittingly enough from Alabama. I tuned into the live stream of SXSW on NPR Music and watched their performance while waiting for Andrew Bird. I immediately pre-ordered Boys & Girls on iTunes. Their sound grabbed my attention in such a way that I’m always listening to it – and not just because it’s at the top of my playlist alphabetically; it’s almost as though I am still trying to solve the mystery as to why I love it so much.
“I’ve traveled a long way
and it took a long time
to find you – but I finally found you”
– “I Found You”
When Howard sings, “Hold On,” on the album’s opening track- she absolutely means it. The track grabs a blues beat and takes it down to Alabama for a trippy view into where the band’s roots lie. Throughout the 12-track, (11 +1 bonus) 38.6-minute album, the band shows its creativity, soul and unrefined talent.
A deep organ rhythm drives “Heartbreaker” deep into the sweaty evening of a summer beach bar and allows Howard to control the tone of a blues ballad. The song is beautiful and reflective in a way that takes captures the imagination of the listener and paints a picture of the struggle of love. The theme of the album seems to center around the ever-complex workings of relationships and the youthful exuberance of young love.
“Oh why can’t we be
Best friends anymore?
They say a friend
Ain’t to be
Between a girl and a boy
I don’t know who said it
Or why it got to be so wrong” – “Boys & Girls
This album is just down right fun, even when sometimes it feels like we’re being told a best friend’s secret. When I heard “I Ain’t the Same,” I knew I was going to love this album and pay attention to this band. It like a firework that explodes into a flash of excitement over the ocean while its pieces sail toward their reflected and distorted image.
The Alabama Shakes will perform July 27-29 at the Newport Folk Festival (along with what seems like nearly every band I love). I’ll be tuning in on the NPR Music website.
You can find the album on iTunes