With Boys & Girls, the Alabama Shakes are chiseling out a spot for retro rock in today’s overly polished music arena. Their not-of-this-era sound channels the bluesy, raspy likes of Janis Joplin with aplomb. Lead songstress Brittany Howard carries no less than a tattoo of the state of Alabama on her right arm, and belts out songs with such soul and finesse that she may as well be telling her life story.
The story of Alabama Shakes all began, as Howard has said, during high school in 2009, when she and bassist Zac Cockrell (a fellow student in her Psychology class) began writing music together. The duo later met with drummer Steve Johnson and guitarist Heath Fogg to form the group’s present lineup.
Lead single “Hold On” captures the quintessential energy and authenticity that makes the group so alluring. Howard’s voluptuous vocals saturate the background as she sings, “Bless my heart / Bless my soul / Didn’t think I’d make it to 22-years-old / Their music be someone up above saying ‘Come on Brittany / You got to come on up / You got to hold on.’ ”
Throughout all of Boys & Girls, Howard fearlessly bares her emotions. In the gut-wrenching “Heartbreaker” she asks, “How was I supposed to know he was a heartbreaker?” Splashes of organ flesh out the pain of bemoaning a broken relationship. In contrast, the heartwarming “I Found You” picks up tempo and finds energy in a muscular guitar riff. Elated, Howard croons, “Well, I traveled a long way / And it took a long time to find you … / But I finally found you …” Whether the Alabama Shakes are performing a solemn or spirited song, the emotion and fire of Howard’s voice is always dialed up to 10.
Though Boys & Girls seems more befitting to an old-timey jukebox rather than the makings of a Spotify playlist, the music remains timeless. As James Brown and Elvis Presley before them have shown–when music is performed well, with gutso and passion, the format of distribution becomes irrelevant. Alabama Shakes remind listeners what rock ‘n’ roll sounds like when the soul supersedes the synthesizer.
Alabama Shakes – Boys & Girls tracklist:
- “Hold On”
- “I Found You”
- “Hang Loose”
- “Raise to the Sun”
- “You Ain’t Alone”
- “Goin’ to the Party”
- “Boys & Girls”
- “Be Mine”
- “I Ain’t the Same”
- “On Your Way”
- “Heavy Chevy”