Alabama Shakes, Rattles and Rolls the Soul
Concert recap by Louise Uznanski. Photos by Richard Uznanski.
After attending the much anticipated Alabama Shakes concert at the World Cafe Live in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on April 9th, I came away not knowing whether the band was Minnie Riperton meets Robert Plant or Otis Redding meets Janis Joplin singing in bare feet.
Brittany Howard, lead vocalist and co-writer of the band’s music, makes you want to forget about anyone else when she is on stage. Her finely penned soul and rock tunes fit her to a T. She has the voice to rouse the apathetic. She has the twist and turn of a well designed lyric that makes you want to know how she crammed all that heartache, joy and soul into her short 23 year old life.
World Cafe Live is a musical venue and program operated by the University of Pennsylvania. WXPN are the call letters. When tickets went on sale the ticket buying was left to a spouse who happened to have the day off. ‘Get in there at 10 am sharp!’, I exclaimed. At the stroke of 10, tickets were already hard to come by. But, two mezzanine tickets were secured to see the hottest live concert band touring today. This would be something to look forward to. All of their shows have sold out and their new CD, Boys & Girls was being released the next day. What a CD release show it was as the Shakes rattled and rolled the soul-d out concert hall.
Opening with Going to the Party, the lead singer gave us an idea of what a live show should sound like and gave fair warning that this night there was going to be one hell of a party.
Hold On was a favorite of mine going in to the show. The song is a coming of age song and after hearing it performed live, the studio version paled in comparison. The song remained a highlight of the night even after hearing the entire set. Only one of the many encore songs outdid this favorite. It was performed for an enthusiastic crowd who kept clapping for more and singing ‘Brit, Brit’ ‘Shakes, Shakes’, every time the band left the stage; this turned out to be none other than Brittany’s version of the Led Zeppelin tune How Many More Times. The tables rattled, the drink glasses wobbled and danced across the tables, and the floor rumbled when they ripped into that Zeppelin song.
I Found You twists and turns so many times that you wonder if she’ll bring it on home in the end. The red, classic ’72 Harmony Rocket guitar purchased at Sherwood Music in December was like a doll cradled in Brittany’s hands. She is fearless at times, other times she is subdued, but all the time she reaches out and grabs her audience.
Boys & Girls, the title track off the first full length CD of the same name, has caused an intense interest in this band. Since the band released the soothing You Ain’t Alone in a 4 song EP in the summer, the band has been the buzz of the concert and festival circuit.
If ever there was a song heard on Monday night that brought back Janis Joplin mixed with Pink Floyd it’s the plaintiff Be Mine. Sung to a lover in a slow and simple sound, the singer tells the loved one not to worry because you’re mine. It was uplifting to hear and amazing to watch.
Formed in high school when Brittany Howard approached Zac Cockrell and asked if he wanted to form a band, the original band was called Shakes. Alabama was added in homage to their Athens, Alabama roots. Boys & Girls was recorded in Nashville at ATO Records and the songs written by Cockrell with lyrics by Howard evoke the golden soul she was immersed in while living with her grandmother and listening to the golden oldies.
The band consists of Brittany Howard, vocals and guitar; Zac Cockrell, bass; Heath Fogg, guitarist; Steve Johnson, drums; and Ben Tanner, keyboardist. The band has opened for the Drive-By Truckers and their appearance on the live TV show Austin City Limits was a first for a band whose debut album had not yet been released.
Listening to the live recording (link provided below), I remember who the lead singer reminded me of: Otis Redding. A lot of soul and little bit of rock and roll. Mix the moves of James Brown, the high octave reaches of Minnie Riperton, the drag-you-around-the-stage hard rock sound of Robert Plant (without the guitar smashing) and you get a band who is revolutionizing what is real and raw amongst the music being made today. The music seems to be invented as it goes along. Melding jazz and odd chords, it appears that Brittany is creating sounds that she wants to hear come out of the guitar whether they are orthodox or not.
Ms. Howard is at once subdued and then outspoken. She is coming to terms with the new life she has plunked herself down into. It’s going to be a long life of innovative music, amazing the establishment and spreading the shakes, rattles and rolls of soul and rock and roll music. Her raw sound is highly complimented by the incomparable guitar player Heath Fogg.
We were lucky to land tickets to one of their earliest shows on the tour. Now the band heads to Europe and then back to the US where they will surely sell out their venues. Glad to have gotten in on the new music, the great fun and being able to hear an incredible, subtle voice in the making, I look forward to hearing their influence spread across the universe. They’ve gone from unknown to must-see at a rapid pace. It is going to be fun trying to keep up with their music. And in hearing the soulful musicians they continuously reference in their lyrics and melodies we might find that their brand of real music is the next best thing.
Listen to the entire concert using the XPN Media Player.
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