Brittany Howard & The Alabama Shakes: From Postal Worker To Powerhouse



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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By | 2016-11-11T21:53:18+00:00 02.06.12|Sounds|5 Comments

About the Author:

I’ve spent almost 20 years helping thousands of successful artists of all disciplines and working to make the arts more accessible. (One friend likes to call me “the arts enabler.”) From 1999-2012 I worked at The MacDowell Colony, the nation’s oldest artist colony, but I've also done time at an arts magazine, a library, an art museum, and a raptor rehabilitation center. In May of 2012 I left MacDowell to pursue writing, speaking, curating, and creative projects full-time. In 2015 I was named a “Top 100 Artist, Innovator, Creative” by Origin magazine. I've appeared as an arts and culture commentator on New Hampshire Public Radio, and in 2017 I was the recipient of the Wampler Art Professorship at James Madison University. I am the founder of the Gwarlingo Salon series, which connects artists like DJ Spooky with rural audiences in the Monadnock region. In 2017 my collaborator Corwin Levi and I will publish our first book, Mirror Mirrored, which combines Grimms’ fairy tales with vintage illustration remixes and the work of contemporary artists like Kiki Smith, Carrie Mae Weems, and Amy Cutler. I grew up in Atlanta, Georgia, but have called New Hampshire home since 1999. My studio is located in the historic, mill village of Harrisville. I miss fried okra, the early southern spring, and restaurants that stay open past 9:00 p.m., but rural life agrees with me. In New Hampshire I can see the stars, go kayaking or snowshoeing, watch bald eagles fish in the lake, and focus on my creative work in silence. I no longer have to worry about traffic jams; deer, wild turkeys, and frost heaves are the primary road hazards here. Although I live in the country, I’m fortunate enough to be part of a vibrant arts community that extends beyond this small New England village. The quiet days are punctuated by regular travel and frequent visits to museums, theaters, readings, arts events, lectures, and open studios around the country. (You can read my full CV here.) Thanks for visiting Gwarlingo. I hope you'll be in touch.


  1. Suzi Banks Baum February 6, 2012 at 8:44 pm

    Wow. This is music for FeMail! I will buy these tracks. Thank you for the great music. You are a feast, Michelle. Really. xoxoox S

    • Michelle Aldredge February 6, 2012 at 8:48 pm

      I’m glad you like the music, Suzi. The Alabama Shakes blew me away the first time I heard them. I can’t wait to hear their first full album. The record comes out in April and the band has just started touring. I’ll keep you posted!

    • Suzi Banks Baum February 6, 2012 at 8:52 pm

      Just bought the album. Very happy. xo S

  2. Liz O'Connell February 7, 2012 at 8:02 am

    Brilliant! And lucky me, I’m going to be in Milwaukee when they do their show and I’m taking my best friend and her fiancee.

  3. Ray February 7, 2012 at 11:00 am

    A garage soul band. Well put. I’ve been obsessing about this band for a couple of weeks. First heard “Hold On” on Sirius and was blown away. Even more blown away when I youtubed them and found out it was a woman singing on hold on. WOW-just wow. They’re on Conan tonight. This band is gonna be big….

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