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The Alabama Shakes at Rams Head Live: A Review

Apr 10, 2012 03:07PM ● By Anonymous

Showcasing their limited catalog of soulful rock for a capacity crowd Saturday at Baltimore’s Rams Head Live, young rockers The Alabama Shakes demonstrated emphatically why their expeditious rise from obscurity is set to continue towards stardom. The driving force behind the group’s timeless, retro-yet-cutting edge sound is without a doubt the amazing vocal ability of lead singer Brittany Howard.

With a confident swagger backed by a once in a generation kind of voice, Howard brings to mind the howling, over the top ability of yesteryear divas. Seamlessly blending the unbridled enthusiasm and wail of Janis Joplin with Aretha Franklin’s assured smoothness, to witness Howard at work is nothing short of wondrous.

The most refreshing aspect of the group’s music is its reliance on simple songwriting performed aptly by solid musicians. Though the group surrounding Howard falls short of greatness, they play the role of backing band gracefully and appropriately. Any attempted instrumental virtuosity or ambitiousness would surely ring hollow in close comparison with the soul Brittany pours into each song.

With only eleven original songs in their developing repertoire, (their first full length album Boys and Girls sees its official release this week after some online leaks and NPR’s free streaming preview) the group tore through the short catalog with finesse and the hunger of young musicians still searching for due recognition. The real triumph of the band’s new release lies in its dynamic contrasts.

Howard seems equally confident on slower, sultry songs like Boys and Girls opening track “I Found You” as on the upbeat pleadings of the album’s first single, “Hold On”. These contrasts were evident and moving in the packed room of Rams Head Saturday. Whether Howard was bemoaning lost friendship on the album’s title track or showcasing the searing passion of “Hang Loose”, the audience remained at rapt attention.  

An obvious highlight of the evening for both the crowd and the band was the group’s take on Led Zeppelin’s “How Many More Times”, a track they’ve taken to covering in live settings of late. The comparisons between the Shakes’ thundering rock and roll and groups like Led Zeppelin are obvious. However, the cover rings nowhere near cliché, even with hints of classic rock sprinkled throughout their originals, as Howard takes Robert Plant’s impossible vocals and willfully makes them her own.

Having already sold out many of their scheduled solo club dates and with a slot opening for Jack White on his highly anticipated first solo tour, the group pushes on in pursuit of prominence. Should they continue to perform with their present enthusiasm and produce original material as soulful and compelling as Boys and Girls, they will reach it in short order.