(***) out of four
Much like the rising desperation in the chorus of this Alabama bar band's single "Hold On," buzz for Alabama Shakes was steadily building in the months before SXSW this year, marking them as a band you just had to see in Austin, Texas--before they hit the festival circuit this summer and took off into the stratosphere of stardom, never to be heard from by the little people again. (Yeah, they'll probably most definitely snag a spot on the Lollapalooza schedule, heads up.) Guess what? Those SXSW elitist dorks were right, of course.
"Boys and Girls" is '60s rock 'n' roll through and through, with vocalist Brittany Howard injecting devastating soul that tugs at your deepest core with a power and intensity you haven't heard since you sat with your dad back home listening to some Otis Redding. (Who'd have known Otis would return as a chick named Brittany?) Tracks like "I Found You" showcase the band's strength in balance with playful, upbeat guitars and rejoicing lyrics coupled with those take-a-breath comedowns between the choruses--about, what else, the search for that great love--that make you wonder how you've gotten this far without such a perfect soundtrack to your life.
This album isn't meant to be that chill background music you throw on while catching up on some reading or procrastinating on the work you decided to finish up at home. With songs like "You Ain't Alone," a desperate plea for connection ("If you're going to cry, c'mon baby, cry on me"), taking you to the heights of Howard’s unshakeable climaxes, you'll surely never get anything done.
Instead: Throw this record on every time you get dumped, graduate from something or get in a fight with your mom. Put a six-pack of your choice on ice, park it on your stoop with a good friend and let Howard and the Shakes take you into the morning with a hoarse voice and fuzzy head. Though I didn't get a chance to catch these guys live at SXSW, it's a sure bet that an in-concert experience with them would be unforgettable. Bone up on "Boys and Girls" now, in case they do show up at Lollapalooza (they will, I promise) in August; it will be one hell of a show you can't afford to miss.