Alabama Shakes,
Boys & Girls
(Rough Trade/ATO, 2012)

Alabama Shakes is a band that has gotten increased airtime pretty much every month for the last year. Their debut album, Boys & Girls, released in April to mostly stellar reviews. I have been loosely following the band ever since my brother introduced me to their signature track "You Ain't Alone" in the fall 2011. I purchased their four-track self-titled EP when it was released that September and was not disappointed, but not as thrilled as I had hoped. Yes, it was a fine EP, much better than most new music I had heard in a few years. However, it was missing something, and it wasn't long before I realized what that was.

Missing from that four-song album was the soul and personality I had come to know and love of lead singer Brittany Howard. The music wasn't bad, and I listened to the songs over and over without tiring, but I kept finding myself going back to the videos on Youtube of them performing the same songs live. One in particular, of "You Ain't Alone" being performed on Sept. 10, 2011, in Chattanooga, Tenn., was my go-to when I wanted to show the band off to somebody.

While I still maintain that particular video is the single best piece I've ever seen from the band, their debut full-length album Boys & Girls more than lived up to the initial hype. The album is, hands-down, one of the best start-to-finish albums I have heard that has been released in the 21st century. There is absolutely no weak spot in the track listing, the glorious soul that emanates from Howard in the aforementioned video is much more present than in the EP (reaching a high point with the powerful track "Heartbreaker"), the management of pace from song to song is admirable, and every single song stands its own as an individual track, while still maintaining its function as part of an album.

The quick rundown is there is no quick rundown; this album needs to be heard start-to-finish and repeated. This is coming from a man who will typically enjoy a band's music less the more popular they come; a music cynic, if you will. Despite their growing popularity, my loyalty remains unchanged. At the risk of sounding like an awestruck fan, I can honestly say this is one of those albums where you almost can't wait for the current song to end, just because you're so eager to hear the next.

With all that out of the way, the only real criticisms I have for the album are as follows: certain tracks make it known that the band is holding back a bit ("I Found You" and "You Ain't Alone") and it makes you wish Howard would throw caution to the wind and start screaming her lungs out; the other members of the band seem to personify just that -- the other members of the band, it's very much so Brittany Howard's show; and finally, the last four tracks should be slightly rearranged.

I am eagerly anticipating the follow-up to Boys & Girls, though with reserved expectations. While I fully believe the band has the talent to continue putting out records of this caliber, the cynic in me has a nagging feeling that they will soon be dragged to the so-called "dark side," where music revolves around catchy hooks and an image. As of right now, the band epitomizes the subculture of hipsters in America. Where they will be in three years time, I have no idea, but can only hope and pray that they don't fall victim to commercialization.

music review by
Bryan Frantz

1 September 2012

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