Parts gospel, blues, soul and rock, the Athens, Ala.-based band is a quartet of young musicians with old souls. Brittany Howard, Heath Fogg, Zac Cockrell and Steve Johnson are virtual unknowns but they play with an intensity and urgency that suggests they know a thing or two about heartbreak, hard luck and those dark hours before dawn. “Bless my heart, bless my soul, didn’t think I’d make it too 22 years old. There must be someone up above sayin’ come on Brittany, come on up. You got to hold on,” Howard sings on “Hold On.”
It’s Howard, “soul singer in the truest sense of the word” according to Brooklyn Glutton who takes Alabama Shakes from being just a good band to being the kind of band that suck the air out of a room. “The best thing about Alabama Shakes and their instantaneous rise is that it has nothing to do with glitz or glam or stupid gimmicks or anything trendy or fashionable or any manufactured music industry nonsense,” says Brooklyn Glutton. “Brittany Howard sings and plays guitar like a woman possessed by the spirit of Janis Joplin, Duane Allman and Jimi Hendrix. She is fierce in her delivery, but so seemingly good natured and humble in spirit that it as if she is this sweet Southern lady who channels the monsters of rock.”
Nashville Scene points out that the band has has a song on the new Zales Commercials — “The ones that show middle-class heterosexual couples sharing warm moments in wintry weather over jewelry boxes, while the 6/8 soul ballad ‘You Ain’t Alone’ — the real heat source — plays in the background.” A year ago the Alabama Shakes didn’t have a publicist; on Record Store Day of this year they didn’t even really have a name (they called themselves The Shakes, only to learn that name was already taken). They played The Groove New & Used Vinyl & CDs to a tiny crowd that included Seth Riddle, GM of the Kings of Leon imprint Serpents & Snakes. Riddle told Nashville Scene, ““After they started playing I was just kind of pinching myself, because it’s really rare that you see a band that strikes that chord with you and you’ve never heard of ‘em.”
By the end of the summer they were opening for Drive-By Truckers; by the end of this coming February they’ll be playing London and they’ve already sold out the first night of a three-night stand there. Which is to say, if you ever wanted to catch a band on its initial rise, to be able to say you saw them when — back before they had a full-length and before everyone was downloading the ring tone — this is probably the time to catch Alabama Shakes.