May 21, 2012, 9:00 am"Boys and Girls": a soulful mix that's sure to please.
KINK's been playing Alabama Shakes's "Hold On" for several weeks now, and if you've been listening to their debut CD in its entirety you may have come away with that comfortable feeling of having known them from somewhere before.
If that's your reaction to this steamy new band from Athens, Alabama, perhaps it's because it's so very easy to imagine dancing to their sound at your favorite watering hole or honky-tonk.
"Boys and Girls" opens with one of its strongest tracks, the aforementioned and oh-so-lovable "Hold On," flaunting the riveting vocals of 22 year-old powerhouse guitarist / lead singer Brittany Howard - as well as impressively robust guitar performances by Howard and her bandmates. This is a locomotive engine of-a-song bound to keep concert venues sold-out on its merits alone.
And if you're thinking Howard's vocals are reminiscent of Janis or Aretha, you're not alone. There are plenty of people who'd agree with that assessment - check out her gutsy vocals on "Heartbreaker" or "I Found You," for instance. Still, there's also a very unique quality to Howard's vocals; she's not only rare, gutsy and refreshing, but sweet and appealing.
The songwriting here is simple, plain and true, as on the stellar and classic title track - and when she sings "Why / is an awful lot of question / and I can't give me no answer / I keep wondering on," the plaintive quality in her voice will surely tug at your heartstrings. Howard can hit those high notes, too: just listen closely to "You Ain't Alone" or the end of "Hold On."
While there's a
real sense of immediacy to Alabama Shakes's music, it also imbues us with a
familiar R&B feel; and, how can we not admire a band so plainly and
completely in command of their guitars? Song arrangement on "I Ain't the
Same" is sparse but solid, a bluesy brew of funky garage band rock n'roll
that'll carry us through those low days and give us a push to roll with the
punches. And, a tip o' the hat to drummer Steve Johnson. A man in control of
his craft, he knows not only how to keep the beat, but is more than adept at
adding tasteful flourishes of punctuation on an as-need basis.
Alabama Shakes's great all-American story on how they started is fun, too. Howard and bassist Zac Cockrell originally got together in high school where they'd meet after school to write songs. Drummer Johnson met Howard when she was still a young teenager and he was working at the local record store; originally, they both played punk rock. After hearing their demo, guitarist Heath Fogg joined in and the band was off and running, starting out playing mostly covers of groups like AC/DC and Led Zeppelin.
Things have changed mightily in a short time... but so far, it's clear band members are comfortable and level-headed with their newly-found fame. Here's what Brittany Howard said in an interview last year with thesouthrail.com:
“I can’t speak for everyone on this, but I’ll tell you about myself: When I get to play with Zac, Heath and Steve, I feel invincible. I love them as musicians and I love them as people. It’s like, I get to sing into this microphone about whatever I want and I got a 42 decibel rock ‘n roll band that’s gonna give me courage and back me up on it. I feel free and easy. I don’t care what someone is thinking, I forget if I’m hurting, I’m not worrying about bad news, and I don’t care for that little while about those bills I have to pay back at home. I’m just reveling in my own world." Way cool.
A great catchy guitar riff opens the encouraging "Hang Loose," a fun and rollicking number again boasting exceptional vocals and solid guitar teamwork. "Rise to the Sun" is another immediately likable track, snapping us to attention with it's pretty opening melody, enjoyable Motown-ish sound, and more great percussion.
In these times of sometimes shrinking music industry sales, broad audience appeal is something most bands are after - Alabama Shakes should have that one covered. Young adults will love Howard's honest vocals that may resonate with them in a similar way that Adele's distinctive and unadorned musical style has. Older music aficionados should easily gravitate towards their sound, which is in many ways reminiscent of the days when new young bands performed covers by CCR or George Thorogood.
Minor quibbles: the output levels fluctuate a little from track-to-track; just keep your hand close to the volume knob, and you won't miss any of the good parts. Other highlights: "Boys & Girls" closes out with the soulful and mournful "On Your Way," also, let's have second helpings of the piano so beautifully and soulfully played on the title track.
On ATO records, "Boys & Girls" was recorded in The Bomb Shelter, Nashville.
Can't wait to see them perform live? Me neither. Meanwhile, pop open a cold one, pass the BBQ and crank it up. ~ Cynthia Orlando
Check more Cynthia Orlando reviews on Twitter @CynthiaOrlando.
Alabama Shakes Concert
We will see you Sunday, May 27th for KINK At The Waterfront featuring Alabama Shakes along with Viintage Trouble, Imagine Dragons and Everest. Tickets