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Alabama Shakes
Boys and Girls Julian Marszalek , April 10th, 2012 07:13

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It's understandable that the antennae of cynicism start twitching uncontrollably when usually reliable sources of musical opinion are moved to declare on their Facebook, "The ex-guitar player of Loop said on 6 Music this evening that this lot are the best band to come out of the USA since The Strokes."

Leaving aside the laughable benchmark seemingly set by the posh lads from New York, the accompanying link to Alabama Shakes' appearance on Conan O' Brien's talk show revealed less the next step of musical evolution and more what the marketing department was going to serve up next. And that's before Russell Crowe's enthusiastic endorsement is given the once over…

Of course, it's a given that once a breakthrough occurs from an unexpected source then the industry will flood the market with any number of ersatz acts and bands. Here, we have the interesting concept of the marketing double whammy.

The planet-shagging success of The Black Keys has proved that the death of rock & roll (© The Broadsheets' music supplements) has, once again, been greatly exaggerated while Adele's continuing position as the World's Favourite Female Voice TM clearly displays the public's ongoing love of vulnerability with a strong set of lungs. So what better winning formula then a combination of the two?

This isn't to dismiss Alabama Shakes completely out of hand. In Brittany Howard, Alabama Shakes possess a formidably talented singer. Beautifully expressive and belying her 22 years on the heartache of 'You Ain't Alone', her voice rises and falls throughout to reveal quite the dynamic range.

Similarly, her cohorts know how to handle their instruments but their take on Southern Soul is way too reverential, studied and calculated to truly convince. Consequently, Boys And Girls is a somewhat predictable trawl through the back catalogues of Creedence Clearwater Revival, Stax Records, Janis Joplin and the recorded output of Muscle Shoals Sound Studios amongst others, but with none of the grit, passion or emotion.

The album suffers from an identikit feel like a musical Frankenstein's monster. From the funk of opener 'Hold On' through to the electric soul of 'Hang Loose' and the arpeggiated tears of the title track, this is a traditionally prepared gumbo aimed at the palettes of those lamenting the death of "proper music".

In a bizarre way, Alabama Shakes are the next step on the evolutionary ladder of the tribute band. Unlike say, The Jim Jones Revue, who breathe new life and a hip-shaking swagger into an existing musical form, Alabama Shakes' politeness and overly-earnest approach to their music robs it of the very feel that should be at its heart. Prepare to be underwhelmed by its forthcoming ubiquity…

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Dan B
Apr 10, 2012 11:39am

If only they'd revoiced the original tracks of someone else instead of writing 'proper music', all that effort wasted. 'This isn't to write Alabama Shakes off completely out of hand': yeah right, pull the other one. Fucking journos these days, they think because they can deconstruct a press release that they're fucking Jacques Derrida.

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Apr 10, 2012 12:25pm

From the handful of tracks I've heard from the record, this review sounds pretty bang-on to me. They have all the 'authenticity' of a Sea Sick Steve record, but just that bit more polite.

Awful sleeve too.

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Dan B
Apr 10, 2012 7:57pm

I had a listen to this band expecting to find some dreadful explosion of hipster nonsense, instead I found a pleasant-if-uneventful band with a truly excellent singer (some slightly clunky lyrics, but most 22 years olds ain't Rimbaud) neither worthy of the backhanded compliments of hype nor the withering territory-marking disdain of this review.

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Stavros P. Leibowitz
Apr 10, 2012 8:13pm

In reply to Dan B:

That's what the review said. And your point is..?

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Dan B
Apr 10, 2012 8:28pm

In reply to Stavros P. Leibowitz:

'Next step on the evolutionary ladder of the tribute band' sounds like a pretty vicious diss to me!

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Fielding Melish
Apr 11, 2012 12:01am

It's perfunctory, pleasant and fairly forgettable. I would agree with the critic's mention of the Jim Jones Revue as being where I would like to see these sort of influences head. Those gents make their (obvious) influences sound like a madhouse, instead of reasonably effective bar band. I'll take a madhouse any day of the week.

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John Dover
Apr 12, 2012 11:13am

Mr Marszalek is bang on the money. I expect this lot will be a-footlin and a-tootlin along with Jools Holland and his grand piano in the very near future. Ick!

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Allan J Begg
May 1, 2012 11:21am

Avoided most hype and gave it several full listens before reading a single review. The above sums it up perfectly for me. "Prepare to be underwhelmed by its forthcoming ubiquity…" properly made me laugh too.

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