The Alabama Shakes Live up to Potential on Debut Album

What a difference a year can make.  Around this time in 2011, the Alabama Shakes (formerly the Shakes) hadn’t recorded a single track, but performed a killer set at the Grimey’s Record Store Day event that caught the attention of Seth Riddle, a record label head.  After recording their excellent EP last summer in East Nashville, the Alabama Shakes’ momentum began to explode as Riddle shared their work with influential music blogs, companies like Zales picked up their songs for commercials, and even the likes of Adele tweeted about them.  Needless to say, expectations were high leading up to the release of “Boys and Girls,” the band’s first full length, but the album meets every one of them.

The remarkable thing about the Alabama Shakes is how they manage to pay homage to dozens of acts while still sounding remarkably unique.  Frontwoman Brittany Howard, who’s been compared to Aretha Franklin, Janis Joplin, and Jack White, infuses every track on “Boys and Girls” with a soulfulness that makes even the simplest songs engaging listens.  Take the slow ballad “You Ain’t Alone,” which sees Howard’s vocals swelling to an impassioned wail as she describes her deepest fears, or “Be Mine,” in which you can almost picture Howard jumping about as she screams “be my baby!” towards the song’s end.

Although Howard’s personality is the band’s most striking feature, the other members’ contributions are not to be ignored.  “Hold On,” the opening track on “Boys and Girls,” features a simple but instantly memorable bass riff that plays off Howard’s belting perfectly, and the soaring guitars on “Rise to the Sun” prove that it’s not just the vocals that make these songs so enjoyable.

At just over 36 minutes, “Boys and Girls” is a stunning listen that flies by. While the scope of these songs may be simple, it’s hard to deny how successfully the Alabama Shakes achieve what they set out to do: creating soulful Southern rock that is at times deeply emotional and at others contagiously fun.  This may only be the band’s debut, but it’s undeniably album of the year material.

Grade: A

Key Tracks:

“Hold On”

“You Ain’t Alone”

“Be Mine”

“On Your Way”

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