Hype can be a crushing weight for many bands, as they falter under the stinging glare of expectation. The debut album from Alabama Shakes was released with enormous expectations and on the first listen your assured that the hype is deserved. This is such an assured debut album, it has a joyous feeling that is wrapped up in a bright soulful sound that retains a beautiful garage edge. Hailing from Alabama you would expect some R&B and soul influences to dominate, led by the exquisite vocals of Brittany Howard and a very dependable rhythm section Boys and Girls resonates with the joy and pain of youth, the expectation of better times and the reality that the current world is a mighty frightening place.
Hold On sets the scene with a sense of desperation and the need to hold on to the important things in life, "Yeah you go to wait, But I don't want to wait" implores Howard in anguished tones. I Finally Found You sounds like it could have come off the cutting room floor at American Studios in Memphis or even at Fame in Muscle Shoals, what is striking about this song apart from Howards stirring evocation of love is the guitar work of Heath Fogg. It draws comparisons with the likes of Jimmy Johnson at FAME studios, Reggie Young at American and Chips Moman, neat precise riffs that add strong tone to each song. The opening to Hang Loose has a great riff that sounds similar to the opening chords of Wilson Picketts Funky Broadway. You Ain't Alone has that impassioned Otis Redding feel with the stuttering approach after the chorus where a crescendo builds before a dramatic fade, the song has a power of feeling that you don't find displayed by many bands these days. Boys and Girls is pure southern soul at it's best mournful and slow with those low bluesy notes interspersed across Brittany Howards voccals as she sings of lost friendship.
Be Mine is uptempo southern soul with a funky backbeat, Howard is in fine vocal form her voice has unexpected penetration, it may not come with the gymnastic accoutrement's but it makes up for it in sheer power and emotion. There have been comparisons with Janis Joplin but her style is more pronounced whereas for me Janis Joplin was raspy and almost breathless in some songs. I Ain't The Same to me is the standout track with Heath Fogg once again supplying some amazing chords in the break. Boys and Girls is one of those albums where you have a young band influenced by the past but in the same footsteps as Drive By Truckers, The Black Crowes etc they have created an album that drips with passion and soul but has that spark of natural force that makes it different and appealing.