The production on this album is very low key with the sound stripped back to its bare bones. This is a good thing considering the material on show and the bands influences, while it ensures that every ounce of soul the band possesses comes through. The rawness of the recordings not only makes the album sound as if it could have been recorded in the mid-60s in Detroit or Memphis, but it all gives the album a certain live feel, with some of the songs sounding like they were performed live in the studio in one take.
Boys & Girls is the debut album from Alabama Shakes, a band from Athens, Alabama that formed in 2009. Led by the effervescent singer/rhythm guitarist Brittney Howard whose voice just bleeds soul, the Shakes style of music is a rough and ready fusion of southern rock, soul, blues and R&B, and that is pretty much what is on show throughout this album.
The album kicks off with the all out stomping rocker “Hold On” and continues with songs such as the Motown-influenced “I Found Out” and Stax-sounding “Hang Loose”. These songs are examples of the more up-tempo numbers on the album, songs that are driven along by pounding backing tracks with Howard’s gravelly voice coming to the fore strongly. Mixed in with these tracks are a few slower soulful ballads where the quality of Howard voice, in particular her range shines through immensely. Songs such as “I Ain’t Alone” and “Be Mine” contain shades of Otis and even Aretha, with the emotion and soul in Howard’s voice taking these songs home strongly. Howard is definitely the shining light on this record with her raspy soulful vocals taking centre stage throughout, often to the point of overshadowing the other band members who are almost reduced to being a support act to her vocal prowess and brilliance. I say this with no disrespect to their contributions on the album, as they themselves sound fantastic and show outstanding glimpses of musicianship in their playing.
Boys & Girls is a very solid first up effort from these Alabamians, and I expect we will be hearing a lot more of them. I expect them to expand on this first release and grow their sound even more on their next album; while in the process continue what seems to have been a blues/soul revival in music that has been going on over the last decade or so.