Unisex Toe-Tapping Soul Music: Alabama Shakes’ Boys & Girls

by Charissa Lock

Here’s the shakedown on Alabama Shakes, it’s a gritty gem amongst the new music scene.  Their first full-length record being such an exciting, all around solid album is a nice surprise and incredibly pleasing to the ears.  Because of this, I think some people are getting a bit out of hand with them.  Yes, they are very talented and have a niche of creating well constructed tunes, and they are doing their own thing without following the latest music trends, as well as having a foundation in good ole’ blues.  Yet, this isn’t the next Beatles, they’re just a really good band who plays southern blues rock in a contemporary fashion with songs that make you feel alive.

Here’s my first experience with the Shakes.  I was given a quick rundown about them, about being blues-y and having a female singer.  This evoked the ‘rolling of the eyes’ and the thought, “Oh boy, this should be interesting.”  I then proceeded to click on their bonus track “Heavy Chevy,” scoffing to myself.  What happened next was something that doesn’t happen too often.   I was so against what I was about to hear without having heard it yet, that when I actually heard singer Brittany Howard scream “He asked me not to go so fast,” and the 60s surfer guitar riff started in – I froze.  Well I froze for about a second before instantly starting to nod my head and may, or may not have been mentally doing the twist.  Images flashed through my mind, the first being John Travolta and Uma Thurman’s dancing scene in Pulp Fiction.  As I started recklessly switching through the songs, other pictures began to form.  I was riding my stingray down Main Street to the diner to meet Sally for a soda pop.  That kind of feeling is something I don’t generally feel with music, other than maybe when I’m jamming out to Jackie Wilson.  The Alabama Shakes aren’t the first thing you think of for 1960’s, but it does provoke the musical sense of this era by having a foundation of music at is rawest form.  Then of course, Howard does have moments where she sounds a bit like Janis Joplin.

It’s not just Brittany Howard’s sometimes tender and sometimes gritty voice that is captivating.   Nor is it just the instrumentation that has the catchiest riffs and transitions.  It’s both of these magnificent pieces that are formed together so wonderfully, which are then the essence of song after song on Boys & Girls.  Every track has great musical pieces, not entirely complicated like a 5-minute Cymbals Eat Guitars tune, but great as in perfect for what it needs to be.   As I was outwardly boasting about this album, I realized that this doesn’t necessarily mean I now must like the genre of southern blues rock, or have become a big fan of female singers with loud and fluctuating vocals.  Instead, it’s this combination of everything put together in this specific album (and hopefully more to come from them).   What they have provided on each song has a moment of “yes!” and sometimes whole songs of a continued “yes!”

Maybe because it’s not something I, or maybe you, were expecting from a four-piece band from Athens, Alabama that makes it that much more appreciated.  And when seeing them perform together you get the feeling that they’re not a flashy band from L.A. publicized with daddy’s money, which is something to be respected.  Rooting for them is like rooting for your next door neighbor’s band, and then there’s the fact that they’re stuff is actually good.   Well, much better than good (insert Tony the Tiger catchphrase here).  Alabama Shakes have created feel good, emotional music on Boys & Girls that hits the soul and flows through your veins in a pleasurable current.

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