Spotlight on Alabama Shakes

Genre: Indie/Blues/Southern Rock/Soul
Hometown: Athens, AL
Artistic Approach: Passion for Blues/R&B and LOUD rock.

For a group that’s only been together a little under three years. Alabama Shakes sound like they’ve been plumbing the rich history of the Deep South for at least a quarter of a century. Brittany Howard, Heath Fogg, Zac Cockerell and Steve Johnson complete a band that are attempting to bring back a sound that’s probably been badly neglected over the last decade or so – with the focus ever more on electronic or indie guitars.

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An EP of songs, eponymously titled Alabama Shakes was released last year through ATO Records and received widespread critical acclaim, not only for its assuredness and maturity but for its awesome, soul wrenching sound.

“Bless my heart; bless my soul, I didn’t think I’d make it to 22 years old. There must be someone up above saying ‘Come on, Brittany, you got to come on up”

The song, “Hold On,” is about yearning and longing for something good to happen, making sure that whatever you do you believe in yourself – it kind of fits in with the image of the band and how far they’ve come in such a short space of time. Howard used to be a mail carrier and Johnson was a night-watchman at a nuclear plant.

Their Sound

The Shakes, as they were originally known formed when singer Brittany Howard approached Zac Cockerell and the two began to write songs together after school. Brittany initially approached Cockerell because how wore t-shirts with cool bands that no-one had ever heard of before and that impressed her. A short while later they approached a guy who worked in a local record shop – Steve Johnson to join them and they began to record some of the things that they had written together.

Brittany’s voice sits somewhere between Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and Amy Winehouse. Full of rich passion and power – yet just an ever so slight hint of frailty, which come across in the lyrics too. Their sound as a band is full of nods to all sorts of diverse acts – when they first started, they incorporated covers by Led Zeppelin, James Brown, Otis Redding and AC/DC into their act – along with the material they’d been writing themselves.

In the upcoming weeks, their debut album Boys and Girls will be released – it’s already available for pre-order through the usual outlets and it promises to deliver the goods. It contains six songs which they recorded for an initial session in Nashville and another five that were recorded ad-hoc through the rest of last year. It would almost be criminal for this album not to sell well and their sound to be more recognized than it is. This sound- their unique sound – is what the music scene has been crying out for, for so long, to break the humdrum monotony of teeny bopping and flake slacker cool.

Touring and Shouting

To put it bluntly, they love touring and playing live. It’s probably the best way to hear how charged their sound is – their recorded stuff is amazing, yet to get the real essence of them you need to watch them and feel the energy:

To promote the album they’re touring through some States this month including gigs in Carrboro, Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York. Last month in a sort of homecoming affair they played a number of gigs in their home state of Alabama and a really well received gig in Austin, Texas. Their raw sound really hitting home to the audiences there. In an almost kind of unheard fashion, they seem quite surprised by their success and how crowds react so positively to them – perhaps it’s because they’ve been so starved of anything as good and fresh sounding as this for so long, and from a group of people so young, yet so assured. It’s quite sweet to note that Howard still lives at home with her Father, it’s kind of grounding I guess – it means you’re up there with all the great performers, giving it your all and then brought back down to earth and made to realize that where you came from is what’s in your heart – always – and that never changes. Alabama Shakes. Bringing the best of everything that music needs, back.

Holly Winnard is a freelance writer from England. When she’s not listening to music she writes on behalf of a number of good causes including addiction treatment centers and teen’s focus groups.

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