Hank Williams, Martha Reeves, W.C. Handy, Nat King Cole, The Commodores, Jimmy Buffett, Emmylou Harris, Wilson Pickett, Chuck Leavell, Shelby Lynn, Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Temptations, The Swampers, and the list goes on. Alabama certainly has a diverse and rich musical history. Alabama Shakes is a worthy new addition to this legacy. Formed in Athens — the one in Alabama — in 2009, the band is easily the greatest talent to emerge from the state in decades. This band is the real deal folks. Authentic. Pay attention! Band members are Brittany Howard (lead vocals, guitar), Zac Cockrell (bass), Heath Fogg (guitar, backing vocals), and Steve Johnson (drums, percussion, backing vocals). Keyboardists Ben Tanner and Paul Horton are also cited as touring members.
In my opinion, Brittany Howard has a voice and stage presence unlike anything the state has ever produced. And she has guitar chops. She is so powerful, it’s easy to overlook the talent of the other band members. But they are all stellar musicians. Their mix of Americana, hard-driving roots rock & southern soul is tailor-made for Brittany.
Prior to fame, Brittany was employed as a cook and a postal worker. The others had day jobs as well to make ends meet. Somebody finally took notice of the band and signed them to a record deal. They have released two LPs to date: Boys & Girls (2012) and Sound & Color (2015). Both have achieved commercial and critical success, and the latter received some Grammy affection. In 2016, it was nominated for “Album of the Year” (Taylor Swift?), and it won “Best Alternative Album.” The track “Don’t Wanna Fight” garnered two Grammys the following year: “Best Rock Song” and “Best Rock Performance.”
Livin’ ain’t no fun
The constant dedication
Keepin’ the water and power on
There ain’t no money left
Why can’t I catch my breath?
I’m gonna work myself to death
The band captured a live performance of “Don’t Wanna Fight” in Capitol Studio A, which is probably even better than the album track. Check out the clip below. I love everything about this: the hum of the amps, the roaming camera work showcasing each musician, the backup singers swinging their arms in sync, even the saliva flying from Brittany’s mouth as she belts out the tune. The band is so tight. And Brittany’s performance is just shock and awe! Breathtaking.
Alabama Shakes has had several successful tours. YouTube has more than a few full concerts of the band at various venues and festivals: Nashville, Austin, Paris, Montreux, New Orleans Jazz Fest, Bonnaroo, Coachella, Lollapalooza, and others. Check ’em out. Provided they keep their heads on straight — fame can sometimes be overwhelming — the band has a bright future ahead of them. They shouldn’t have to worry about keeping the water and power on. That’s for sure.
Other favorite tunes:
Boys & Girls: “Hold On,” “Hang Loose,” “Boys & Girls”
Sound & Color: “Shoegaze,” “Dunes,” “Future People,” “Sound & Color”
Non-album tracks: “Always Alright” “Heavy Chevy”
More from Rolling Stone:
How Alabama Shakes Gambled Big on Wild Second Album Sound & Color
Alabama Shakes Summer Tour
June 24 – Pasadena, CA @ Arroyo Seco Weekend
July 16 – Birmingham, AL @ Sloss Music & Arts Festival
August 01 – Albany, NY @ Palace Theatre
August 02 – Shelburne, VT @ The Green At Shelburne Museum
August 04 – Boston, MA @ Blue Hills Bank Pavillion
August 05 – Portland, ME @ Thompson’s Point
August 06 – Montreal, Quebec @ Osheaga Festival Musique Et Arts