BY BILL SMITH
So much of music has always been image based. From Elvis to Elton John, the ridiculous styles of the 80’s, (which for some reason appear to be making a comeback) right up until now. Perhaps musicians these days choose style over substance more often then not, which really does nothing to sustain a career, but it sells a lot of records. So for a music aficionado like myself, when I see a trend that bucks against the system as it were, and even begins to garnish some attention in the mainstream, it thrills me to no end. In the past few years the style once referred to as “Blue Eyed Soul,” is having a revival. Blue eyed soul for those that don’t know is a style of music popularized in the 1970’s by artists like Hall and Oates, and then perverted in the 1980’ and 1990’s, by artists like Michael Bolton. White singers with a more Soulful approach to Pop music then the normal straight ahead Rock appeal. The British have been at the forefront of this movement, which is a style probably more suited for them then it is for Americans. Artists like Amy Winehouse, Duffy and of course Adele, have been blazing a trail for a host of imitators and sound alikes all the same. But now America is firing back with The Alabama Shakes.
The Alabama Shakes are releasing their debut album Boys & Girls on April 10, and are already creating a huge buzz in the music industry. Making their network television premier on Conan O’Brien on February 7, the Shakes have been steadily building up the hype around this release, and with good reason, it’s an incredible album. Reminiscent of the wonderful Soul and R & B music from the 1960’s and 70’s, the Shakes and a modern Indie flair to create a sound that pays homage to their musical heroes, yet reflect who they are as artists as well. If you close your eyes and listen to the music on Boys & Girls, you are transported to a time where Aretha Franklin or Otis Redding might be recording at Muscle Shoals right down the hall from the Shakes. This record has a truly vintage feel, while maintaining a modern sensibility that will hopefully translate well with the record buying public.
The comparisons to Adele are obvious, and undeniable. The Shakes are the American counterpart to Adele in everyway, a little more “Southern-Fried” though of course. In fact, if I were to compare Adele’s 21 side by side to Boys & Girls, I could not easily determine which effort is more triumphant. The Shakes are a motley looking crew for sure. Glancing at their promotional package you have to chuckle. To think this music could come from a group that presents this image, completely goes against the grain of contemporary music which is so shiny and over polished. The truth is the Shakes are creating authentic music, not based on gimmicks or schemes, but heart and a whole lot of Soul.
This album is a solid listen straight through. Standout tracks include “Be Mine,” “Hang Loose,” and “Hold On,” which the band performed on Conan. I look forward to seeing how this band develops in the future. I hope that the path the Shakes peers have lead for them will translate into success and accessibility in the mainstream. True artists like these deserve a chance to share their music with the world. Boys & Girls hands down is the best album so far of 2012.
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