About three weeks ago, I saw Alabama Shakes perform on Saturday Night Live and it reminded me that I had been wanting to check them out for a while. I’d heard that they were sort of blues-y with a little bit of rock and a whole lot of soul thrown in. So I got online and checked Amazon and started typing in “Alabama Shakes,” but then went with a search for their single, “Hold On” since it was the first suggested search term. Lo and behold, turns out that I’d downloaded that single sometime in May 2012, probably as one of those “artists on the rise” promotions since they were on the verge of being hot. After all, their debut album, Boys & Girls, had just been released a month prior.
At that point, I made a note to myself to listen to the album preview later and I headed over to Twitter to see what people were saying. Ugh. While there were quite a few people going on about what an amazing singer Brittany Howard is and how they were completely blown away by her, there were a handful of…well, I’ll be nice and call them jerks…cracking jokes about her appearance, questioning her gender, mocking the size of her mouth. But screw them, right? Because this woman can SING. And I don’t see any of those *ahem* jerks gracing the SNL stage.
Brittany Howard created Alabama Shakes with bassist Zac Cockrell back in high school. They were later joined by drummer Steve Johnson. Brittany and Zac would meet after school to write songs, mostly progressive rock. Once Steve joined, they began to work on cover versions of songs by artists like Otis Redding and James Brown and bands like Led Zeppelin and AC/DC. They recorded a demo which made it into the hands of guitarist Heath Fogg and he eventually became a part of the band. And now what kind of music do they make? Well, it’s not retro soul. “Retro soul is not what we’re going for,” says Brittany, “though it’s understandable why people say it. We take inspiration from that, but we all understand Black Sabbath, too. On the record, we left a lot of room for whatever we want to do in the future.”
While it takes the talent of more than just one person to make such a successful group, it’s Brittany Howard’s voice that sets Alabama Shakes apart. Ms. Howard’s voice sounds wise beyond her years. She’s part Aretha and part Janis, with a little bit of Al Green thrown in. And talk about passion! It’s a wonder her mic doesn’t burst into flames when she sings considering all of the fire she puts into her performance. But then at the same time, she’s so cool and so smooth. She’s like that glass of cold milk you drink after eating a plate of hot wings to soothe the burn but – surprise! – she’s also the habanero pepper in the sauce!
If you missed SNL the night they performed, here are the videos of their performances. First up was their popular single “Hold On” followed by “Always Alright” which is also available on the “Boys and Girls” album. You can download it for free, too!
P.S. In addition to her band being nominated for a few awards at the 2013 Grammy Awards, Brittany Howard also performed at the awards ceremony with Elton John, Zac Brown, Mavis Staples, T. Bone Burnett, and Mumford & Sons as part of a tribute to the late Levon Helm of The Band. So all of those people poking fun of her looks can just sit down and shut it.