I entered into the world of Alabama Shakes knowing that I was going to be, in some sense, let down. I had seen them perform twice on television; once on The Late Show and once on Saturday Night Live. Both times they were exceptional. Twenty-four year old Brittany Howard is a vocal powerhouse. When she kicks herself herself in the butt in the opener Hold On and demands, “Come On Brittany, you got to come on up!”, you know she’s serious. This woman isn’t gonna let anything get the best of her. Life is what you make it, regardless of circumstances. Hold on. Come on up!
My expectations were set too high. Everything about their performances were too flawless – it couldn’t translated that well to a record, and I was prepared for that. I was correct in my assumption, because it doesn’t translate as well on Boys & Girls. I feel as though it would be impossible to capture the urgency and passion in her live voice through any recording. But does this record do her enough justice? It certainly does, more times than not.
Listen to her wail on Heartbreaker, a straight shot right back to a smoke-filled club in the 40’s:
Mama couldn’t tell me about the feeling
And all them love sick songs… well
They got true meaning
Oh why / Why did you have to slice me wide babe
How was I supposed to know you gimme my first heart aching
How was I supposed to know you was a heartbreaker
Oh I didn’t know / I didn’t know
Now I’m on this killing floor and I wanna die
Zach, Heath, and Steve are smart enough to restrain and not try to overshadow her. She’s the star here, and while they’re great musicians, they also know when to show up at the right place, at the right time.
Let’s hope this heartbreak wasn’t caused by the love of a lifetime that she finds on I Found You, because it’s too pure of an wonderful emotion being expressed to taint with such a tragedy. Patrick Monahan (Train fame, haha) wants our first dance at our wedding to be to a song he wrote to cash in on the business. Do we realize that the person he’s writing about he actually hasn’t even met yet? If I ever get the nerve to say ‘hello’ in this cafe? Meet her before you marry her, dude. I know, I know, I’m taking it too literally – it’s a sweet song, I know that. But personally, it’s got nothing on this. I Found You is refined. It’s classic. I mean:
I remember all them days I waited so patiently
Until God brought someone who’s gonna be good to me
And he blessed my soul.
Elsewhere, we find the southern bluesy rock on Be Mine, which gives us a wonderfully placed single-use expletive that drives the point home. Few times is this word’s usage actually justified to make a song sound smarter, but it does here. First we had James Blunt, and then we had Payable On Death. Add Alabama Shakes to that list – she’s gonna be a dead woman if you wanna try to mess with this heart. Title track Boys & Girls is an mega-slow jam that brings a simple piano line to the front of this late-night bar saga. Hang Loose. Raise To The Sun. Brittany never fully let’s herself go on some of these tracks. I may be naive to think that there’s a little something missing – just a little more ‘umph” could be inserted into some of these songs to truly make them stand out – but I also realize that I’m splitting hairs.
If you had to listen to two tracks: Hold On / I Found You