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Holding On to Alabama Shakes

Courtney Eckerle | Monday, April 16, 2012

 

Probably the most critically-anticipated album of the year, Alabama Shakes’ debut “Boys and Girls” lives up to all the hype without being pretentious. Hailing from Athens, Ala., they are led by powerhouse vocalist Brittany Howard.

Effortlessly honest and deliciously dynamic tunes fill this album. A straight shot of fresh and full rasp, Howard’s voice clutches at guttural, raw emotions and doesn’t let up. With all the soul of Etta James and raw power of James Brown, she brings an unapologetic emotional vulnerability and sensuality. 

Howard easily slides up and down the vocal scale, dipping down and ratcheting back up to add to the emotion of the song. She shows no flaws in transitioning from clever and funny to soulful and bleak. 

What makes Alabama Shakes live up to its hype is not just Howard’s voice ¾ it is her band’s funky and clever reworked throwback tunes that challenge, while also complimenting her perfectly. 

The intro track “Hold On” is one of the greatest showcases of her voice and sets the tone for the entire album, with snarky and truthful lyrics, “Bless my heart, bless my soul/ Didn’t think I’d make it to 22 years old/ There must be someone up above/ Saying ‘Come on Brittany, you gotta come on up!'” 

“Hang Loose” is a great southern rock song with a fun, rolling guitar that leads into lyrics, “Don’t worry, sweet baby/ Don’t you ever worry ’bout a thing/ Put your worries on the shelf, time to love yourself/ Don’t be your own worst enemy.”

“Goin’ to the Party” is a funny, slinky song with lyrics like, “You gotta take me home now, I know you ain’t drinking water/You gotta take me back ’cause I’m still someone’s daughter.” 

Title track “Boys and Girls” is a slow ode to Motown that opens with a slow drumbeat that immediately tugs at every low-down emotion. 

Howard draws out the split-open heartbreak by slowly crooning lyrics like, “Oh why can’t we be best friends anymore/ You say a friend ain’t to be between a girl and a boy, I don’t know who said it/ Oh why does it have to be so wrong? Oh why don’t you call, don’t you care anymore?”

The track immediately leads into the raucous and rolling “I Ain’t the Same”, a rebellious defiance of a relationship gone wrong. 

“Listen!/ I ain’t the same no more/ In fact I’ve been changed from before/ I know you ain’t gonna find me/ Because I’m not who I used to be.” 

Alabama Shakes give listeners a fresh injection of blues-rock, with a debut album that has a fierce life of its own. It breaks the single-MP3 download mold the industry has taken in the past decade, smoothly flowing into a single story of “Boys and Girls”. It is the kind of album that without listening to, life is a little less. 

Contact Courtney Eckerle at cecker01@saintmarys.edu