By Leva levitra
Sunday May 19, 2013 | May 2013 Issue
Alabama Shakes: Boys & Girls
Every so often a band, or an album, comes along and it is something so fresh, so distinct, so perfect, that it just feels like it is a major piece of the puzzle that is music. You hear it and instantly it seems a major void has been filled. This new band from Athens, Alabama, and their debut album, Boys & Girls, is just that. It’s that kind of album that is both fresh and timeless. Barely out of high school, this quartet exists in a realm far beyond their years, and even further beyond their peers. Taking the sound and styling of Stax/Volt soul and mixing it with a Stones-like swagger and a Velvet Underground fuzz, at times, as well as the ethereal Southern rock vibe of bands like My Morning Jacket, and the sweeping, chordal nature of Arcade Fire, and you have something that may come close to the sound of this band.
Singer/guitarist Brittany Howard possesses a voice that recalls everyone from Janis Joplin to Billie Holiday, Bessie Smith, Darlene Love, Tina Turner, and even James Brown….she just oozes soul and grit and fire, subtle as a soft spring rain and as fiery as a banshee. Behind her, the band lays down its groove in a very natural, old school kind of way, unobtrusive but totally in control. There are no flashy guitar solos or egotistical drum fills….this is a band that knows how to serve the song, and serve the song well.
The production has a very 1960s sort of sound….at times it almost reminds me of Phil Spector, but without the dense-ness of his “wall of sound”. Honestly, this record could have come out in 1964, 1967, or 1969, and in any of those cases it would have easily been the Album Of The Decade, no doubt.
Because, production and musical ability aside, these guys know how to write a song, and this album is full of amazing songs that command repeated listens (in the 4 days or so that I have had this album, I have honestly listened to it over 50 times) and are the kind of songs that can speak to generations. It is beyond shocking that someone so young can deliver the kind of heart-wrenching and soul-stirring songwriting as what’s found here. These are songs that are typically reserved for those much older and far more experienced. But there is nothing on this album that sounds put-on. In fact, it’s one of the most honest albums I’ve heard in years.
On an album this good, it’s unfair to single out particular songs as “highlights”, but I do have my favorites, including the mellow opener, “Hold On”, the epic, sentimental “Be Mine”, the soulful, Spector-esque “I Found You”, and my personal favorite, the feel-good anthem of the year – “Hang Loose”, probably the best song released by any band this decade. With its slinky guitar riff, rollicking beat, and uplifting lyrics – “put your worries on the shelf & learn to love yourself / don’t be your own worst enemy – hang loose” - there are few songs out today that can better raise a mood. Again, singling out songs is not quite fair because every song on this album is an absolute killer. In fact, the only negative thing I could possibly say is that, at 35 minutes, it just goes by too quickly. Of course, the best solution is just to start over.
This album soothes me, it inspires me, it gets me going, it gets me moving, it shakes me up….it completely restores my faith in music and the world, in general. There is no reason why these guys won’t get VERY BIG and very soon. The album will be released on April 9. Look for Alabama Shakes everywhere, soon after.
Van Halen: A Different Kind Of Truth
Speaking of bands that had unforgettable debut albums…
Once upon a time, Van Halen was one of the biggest bands in the world. They wrote classic songs, shot great videos, sported one of the best guitarists around, and perhaps the most charismatic lead singer of all time. Unfortunately, after about 10 years it all went wrong and said lead singer, David Lee Roth, was ousted from the band. His replacement, Sammy Hagar, brought commercial success but the next decade saw the band’s artistic fortunes dwindle, reaching an all time low on 1998’s Van Halen III, featuring Gary Cherone on vocals. Something had to change. They toured with Hagar in 2004 but nothing came of it, and then in 2007 they toured with Roth on vocals and this time it seemed to work.
A Different Kind Of Truth is the first Van Halen album in 14 years. It’s the first Van Halen album with Roth on vocals in 28 years. And it’s their best album in 32 years.
Now, often when you take 14 years to make a new album, the hype tends to swallow the album, usually long before it even comes out (case in point: Chinese Democracy). In this case, however, the long wait was worth it. For much of the album, they went back to the source and reworked several songs from their early days, stuff that did not make it to their first album. While in some cases this might be seen as a cop-out, here it works, and served as inspiration for the newly-written songs as well. Everything about this album screams classic Van Halen, from the unforgettable lead single, “Tattoo”, to the sleaze of “She’s The Woman”, to Eddie’s shredding guitar work on “China Town”, to the punk-metal of “Bullethead”, to the bluesy “Stay Frosty”, this album has it all.
Whether this becomes the first chapter in a new saga, or the band’s swan-song, remains to be seen. In either case, this album is sweet redemption and an exclamation point on their career.
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