One of the albums I’m most anticipating this spring is Boys and Girls, the first full-length record from the garage-soul band the Alabama Shakes.
Brittany Howard’s soulful, sandpaper voice channels the likes of Janis Joplin, Otis Redding, and Aretha Franklin, with a touch of Billie Holiday thrown in. It’s true I have a soft spot for soulful Southern singers from my own neck of the woods, but I can’t think of a more memorable voice to emerge on the music scene in ages. There is so much passion, ache, and groove in Howard’s voice, that she makes the microphone bleed. The range of emotion she imparts is nothing less than remarkable. She can be ferocious, but also incredibly tender.
Howard started writing songs at age four with her older sister, who died of a brain tumor in 1998. “After she passed away, I didn’t have anybody to do that with,” she told Rolling Stone, “But I found her guitar, started playing and never really stopped.”
Only six months ago, the Alabama Shakes’ lead singer was working as a postal worker. But after the band debuted these four jaw-dropping tracks on an EP last fall, Howard and her band mates Heath Fogg, Zac Cockrell, Brittany Howard and Steve Johnson, suddenly found themselves thrust into the limelight.
The band’s live show has been receiving rave reviews. After their debut performance at the Bowery Ballroom, Jon Pareles in The New York Times described their set as “a thunderbolt dressed in bluejeans.” David Byrne, Adele, and Booker T. Jones are all fans of the Alabama Shakes. Three upcoming concerts in London are sold out, and the band is already the talk of of South by Southwest, and they haven’t even performed yet.
“When I get to play with Zac, Heath and Steve, I feel invincible,” Howard recently explained to The South Rail. “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.”
I can’t wait for summer to come around so I can play these songs with the window rolled down. Keep an eye on the Alabama Shakes. This new band is going places.
You can check out their four-song EP right here:
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