Boys & Girls
Let's set the stage here: There are certain decades of music that I'm just not big on. That's a huge, sweeping statement that might get me pretty roughed up somewhere, but let's just play devil's advocate here. Thus, I was at first a bit skeptical of Alabama Shakes. Upon first listen, however, the group's soulful swells immediately swept me in before I could write them off as just another band trying to time-warp through space.
The story of Alabama Shakes is simple enough: Two high school friends started meeting after school to write rock songs, ranging from classic to soul to roots. Unlike every other high school garage get-together, however, the group's self-titled EP was released to wide acclaim, turning the heads of everyone from influential bloggers to NPR. Getting name-checked by The New York Times after a CMJ performance may be an abbreviated version of the typical rags to rockdom story, but it is this exact converting power that the group possesses that's extremely eye-catching.
Sure, Alabama Shakes' composition is nearly flawless, oozing with a carefree visceral catharsis. I just want to riff along with them and disregard my lack of guitar mastery; it's just that the sound so easily invites listeners to sloppily join in and shout along.
But the real spotlight undoubtedly should shine on the extremely amiable vocals of Brittany Howard, who also wields a mean guitar. Howard's beautifully heart-wrenching voice rasps at just the right places, pouring out clear, intense emotion and soul that she packs tightly into her delivery throughout the album. Howard's range is also incredibly wide, ranging anywhere from the likes of a band leader in the upbeat rock chorus of "Hang Loose" to the escalating screeching pleas of "You Ain't Alone," a refreshingly bare ballad in the midst of heavier cuts. In the latter, I can even hear the breaks in Howard's croons as she shouts, "come on, cry with me." It's surprisingly honest, and I'm convinced that Howard is just an old friend.
Boys And Girls is a wild album, an honest collection visibly drenched in blood, sweat and tears.
Boys And Girls is really a tour de force like no other. It's not time-warp, but instead sounds like a the concoction several decades in the making; it's chronologically ambiguous. Rather than borrowing styles verbatim from different time periods, it's more like Alabama Shakes takes on the persona and emotions of those periods instead: angst from the '70s and soul from the '60s swirled with lightheartedness from the '50s.
Album opener "Hold On" appropriately introduces the group's anthem-leading abilities with Howard's commanding vocals at the helm. The aforementioned "You Ain't Alone" is still the best example of Howard's gut-wrenching vocals as the track ends builds to a joyously bittersweet climax. However, the best buildup is on "Be Mine," which ends in a furious frenzy led by Howard's primal screaming and underlined by loud cymbal crashes and a pounding bass drum.
Boys And Girls is a wild album, an honest collection visibly drenched in blood, sweat and tears. It's more emotion than revival, more soul than renewal. In this way, Alabama Shakes produced something entirely their own, a fierce, daringly revealing diary of sorts. And I believe it.
Stream 'Boys And Girls' in its entirety here.