2012 might just be the year of the soul revival and Alabama Shakes are the kind of band who we’d like to think Otis Redding might have been a big admirer of if he hadn’t boarded that plane. Like the big man himself, they really do shake, but they also bring a hearty dose of rattle and roll to the party as well. It’s not just singer Brittany Howard’s voice that evokes memories of Otis though, these guys like to play their soul with rough edges. This is Stax not Motown, which means shaggy sounding and raw, while they rock out with some bash and crash guitars that are more Jack White than Barry White. Then again, we shouldn’t be surprised – between southern rock and soul, the south has always been a melting pot of musical styles and this is pure jambalaya soul-rock forged in Alabama but conceived equally in Otis’s Georgia and Skynyrd’s Florida.
Word has spread quickly and debut album “Boys & Girls” is set to take the band into the mainstream when it’s released in April. It’s impressive too. While Adele and Amy Winehouse cornered the retro soul market here with their smooth sounds, Alabama Shakes feel like the real thing and they don’t need a horn section to prove it. Howard sings like she was raised on Otis’s Dictionary of Soul; check out “You Ain’t Alone” for a vocal performance that’s so reminiscent of “Try a Little Tenderness” that it’s bordering on ghostly. Perhaps more unexpected is the rockier output, album opener “Hold On” featuring a groovy riff and a mournful tone that kicks into whoopin’ rock’n'roll somewhere around the midpoint and never relents. The band have got an ear for a groove, “Hang Loose” doing just that with it’s slouchy-cool guitar and driving rhythm, while the chugga-chugg funk slink of “Rise to the Sun” gives way to a rousing rock’n'roll chorus. Writing songs big enough to do the band justice might be just their biggest problem.
Bristling with intent, heart on sleeve delivery and a natural sense of timing, Howard’s vocals knock most soul divas’ efforts into a cocked hat, which accounts in large part for the band’s rapidly burgeoning reputation, but this is no one woman show. By the time of Great Escape, there’s every chance that these southern kids will be the hottest ticket on the line-up.
More Alabama Shakes here.