The Alabama Shakes seemed to have come out of nowhere but the sort of small-town âgee, letâs do thisâ kind of goodness than can only emerge out of the useless mass between New York and Los Angeles called âAmerica.â It shows in their soul-and-bluesrock mixture, and the fact that no one single player emerges as a major leader in the band.
Even lone female member, lead singer, and powerhouse performer Brittany Howard plays insofar as the band will let her, knowing that this has more potential as a group effort than it does as a potential launching pad for her own solo career. And who knows, in a few years down the line, she could have the same kind of power and draw that other blues-rock frontsmen have enjoyed in recently. But for now, in an album focused on the strengths of the songwriting and the cohesiveness of the band, itâs about as good as itâs going to get for a band that started on the whim of simply having a band, went on to be a popular bar act, and, etc. etc. and on until, well. . . Here we are.
Read more of the Boys and Girls review after the jump.
Ever since last yearâs debut of their EP, Alabama Shakes, buzz has been abound for this band for creating such an authentic sense of soul and bigness-in-confidence. Itâs obvious in Boys and Girls in how the band utilizes airy space between the instruments and production value, wherein thereâs always a slight mute or fuzz to Ms. Howardâs microphone, and the drums echo like theyâre playing in your garage at this very minute. In this way, they come across as very, very similar to fellow neo-juke-joint act The Black Keys, but with the benefit of having a singer with both character AND range as their leader. Thatâs not to say that Brittany Howard will be challenging Aretha Franklin anytime soon for a soul performance Grammy; but that her performance is simultaneously fitting for the material, but also fearless.
Yet, much like The Black Keys, Boys and Girls is a fantastic album for a mood, but few individual moments stand out, for neither any one particular player nor for the band. If anything, âGoinâ To the Partyâ stands out as the albumâs shortest song, and the most dedicated to a particular phrase worth repeating. Commercial favorite, the R&B slow-burner, âYou Ainât Alone,â plays just as well as it did on the self-titled EP, but now feels buried beneath other tracks that are just as strong performance-wise, but not as unique in terms of the bandâs own novelty-quality as a retro-based soul-and-rock act in debt to equal parts Otis Redding and early Led Zeppelin (Letâs say, no further than the A-side of âLed Zeppelin IIâ).
What this boils down to being a simultaneous disappointment and victory: Itâs not as glorious as the EP (and the hype that followed) promised, but itâs by no means a failure of the expectations. Be assured, Boys and Girls delivers insofar for people looking for great soul-rock, especially that of the simplified variety, minus horns and too many guitar effects.
Hell, itâs just great that thereâs another soul band to perform from a territory thatâs not taken up by residents of soul-rock heavy Brooklynites (where Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, as well as Charles Bradley, among many other local favorites) to show how itâs done elsewhere, with a more homegrown southern flair and earnestness. Itâs a quality that comes through on Boys and Girls, definitely. But the record itself falters where it could soar by holding back some punches that the bandâs reputation demands at this point.
Given the slow build up of hype between the EP and the actual LP, letâs hope that the second record lets the Alabama Shakes rip where they merely rumble here.