Album Review: Alabama Shakes ‘Boys and Girls’
It is no secret that the Alabama Shakes were my favorite new band of 2011. The four songs on their debut EP were drenched in a southern-fried soul that hits deep down in the seat of the pants. When MOKB co-conspirator Josh Baker returned from Nashville’s Next Big Soundland Festival last year singing the band’s praises, I gave their EP a spin and never looked back.
My passion for the Shakes toed the line of unabashed cheerleader. It’s just that so much of what I’ve been listening to over the last couple of years is devoid of the raw emotion and timeless aura that dominated the Alabama Shakes EP. As someone who has spent a large portion of his life binging on blues and New Orleans R&B, the discovery of Brittany Howard filled a basic need that had been lacking in my relationship with the current independent music scene.
Much the same way that The Black Keys were able to accomplish on Rubber Factory and The Big Come Up, the Alabama Shakes translate a sound of an earlier era without ever becoming hackneyed. Today, the band releases their debut LP Boys and Girls. The four tracks from the band’s self-titled EP remain, plus seven more. The new notes build nicely upon the band’s foundation. Why reinvent the wheel when audiences have unanimously affirmed your work to this point? No need.
The album opens with the bone rattling bass and drum line that serves as the powerful, diesel engine of “Hold On.” Snare – kick, kick. Snare – kick, kick. The track is as fresh as the first day that I heard it, with Howard’s vocals snapping the neck hairs of everyone within earshot to attention. Fucking rock, man.
The new material kicks off on track three with what will inevitably become one of the summer’s biggest anthems, “Hang Loose.” Here, the Shakes trade the dirty South for the white capped surf of the beach. Focused and concise, the track clocks in at a mere 2:26. Nevertheless, allowing for plenty of time to leave an impact. Next up is the impassioned rocker “Rise to the Sun.” The guitars bubble to a boil at the end of each verse before pulling back in exchange for pounding rhythms. Like a lover intent on avoiding the premature climax, the Shakes take listeners to an emotional brink without pushing them over the edge.
The Alabama Shakes round out the latter half of Boys and Girls with a handful of tracks that slip seamlessly into the band’s mold. No missteps. Highlights include the energetic, cymbal-heavy “I Ain’t the Same” and brief, bouncy tease of “Goin’ To The Party.” I willingly concede that little, if any, risks are taken, but those are for albums two or three anyway – or never for all I care. While I wouldn’t complain if the Shakes let go and asserted themselves at times, I will likely continue to lap up this delicious material like a grateful dog for as long as the band continues to churn it out. Thus far, the band has done nothing short of convince every crowd they come across that they are the next big band. Until they give us a reason to argue otherwise, who the fuck is going to doubt them?
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Written by Rob Peoni