For something to speak to you on a personal level, it needs to come from a place of emotional truth. There are things out there in the realm of entertainment and consumerism (and consumerist entertainment) that seem to be generated as part of a broader corporate strategy. Avengers: Age of Ultron might be a fun time at the movies (to be confirmed), but the central characters are being used to sell energy drinks. Apparently we must, according to the ads, collect them all.
So when you press ‘play’ on something like Alabama Shakes’ second album Sound & Color, you get the feeling from the first notes and moments of the opening (title) track that this is an enterprise coming from somewhere deeper than a need to appeal to as mass an audience as possible.
This is the quintessential incarnation of blues rock in the 21st century; it’s an explosion of soul so real and authentic you can practically taste it.
The last time a record of this type hit so hard, as if from nowhere, was when The Black Keys began to gain traction about a decade back (Attack and Release was the opening gambit for me). Alabama Shakes is cut from the same cloth – wearing their influences on their sleeves, feet firmly planted in the blues and roots traditions while sounding altogether fresh, and honest to a fault. When lead singer-guitarist Brittany Howard tells you she ‘Don’t Wanna Fight No More’ repeatedly in the second track, you have no choice but to believe her.
Brittany Howard doesn’t look anything like the lead singer of a rock band. She doesn’t fit the mould as we’ve been made to believe it should be cast. But there’s something almighty about what comes out of her mouth – that wail, the sound of that Whitman-esque barbaric yawp. You’ve not heard a voice like this since Janis Joplin. Such fluid soul, such yearning, such emotional truth right there; and here’s me, the old man saying that if only all the kids today could be this awesome (Howard is something like 25 years old). When she bellows at you, ‘Give Me All Your Love’, you know you’ve got an uphill battle saying no. The songs ebb seamlessly from the brimstone of evangelical potency, to delicate morsels of inspired guitar whimsy. It’s immaculate.
They say you need to listen to an album three times to truly appreciate it, but this thing had me from the get-go. Prior exposure to this act was restricted to their appearance earlier this year on SNL, and that was itself revelatory.
And there, right there, is everything you need to know, but only a fraction of what makes Alabama Shakes so good. Seek out, and then let this thing envelop you, you bastards.
Friday, April 17, 2015