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Left Lane: Alabama Shakes

Blistering heat treatment from dynamic young band

April 19, 2012
By RICH GIBSON“America’s next great rock and roll band.” , Times Leader

"America's next great rock and roll band."

So proclaims the highly respected 'American Songwriter' magazine whose March/April issue helps introduce Alabama Shakes, a three-man and one hide-the-women-and-children gender-bending vocalist of incredible distinction.

A few spins of the band's rookie CD, "Boys & Girls" indicates something's most definitely cooking, a double entree of southern style blues-rock fronted by mover and shaker extraordinaire Brittany Howard.

Over the holidays last December, National Public Radio devoted a 30-minute segment previewing some of 2012's projected heavy hitters of whom Alabama Shakes were on a priority watch list.

They played a couple of cuts from the band's record, actually recorded months earlier before a handful of A&R showcase appearances resulted in heavy rotation and instant exposure.

All four Shakers grew up in a small north Alabama town and formed a band - nearly out of necessity as Howard described to a writer from American Songwriter.

"The country there is flat. There's nothing to see or to do," Howard advised. "Lots of trees and old people. No music scene. (You) drink, you set things on fire, and you have premarital sex."

Howard, who had started playing guitar a few years earlier, approached former classmate and music junkie Zac Cockrell. The idea? "I just knew Zac played bass and that he wore shirts with cool bands on them that nobody had heard of," Howard disclosed.

The pair started writing songs and soon, were stoked by the results. "It had that rootsy feel, but there was also some 'out-there' stuff," Cockrell noted.

"David Bowie-style things, prog-rock. Then, we started to come across our own sound a little bit, though it's evolved a lot since then."

Spending hours at the only music store in town, Howard and Cockrell recruited drummer Steve Johnson and the trio entered a studio in Decatur, Ga. to record some of the songs they had composed.

The band's demo was eventually honed in by guitarist Heath Fogg, an acquaintance of Howard's. When Fogg invited the trio to open a show for his band, they agreed, asking Fogg to join them on stage.

Three years later, the Shakes are making major waves - literally. Though still generating stateside buzz, the band has been hailed overseas and have played three sold out shows at a popular London venue.

'Boys & Girls' opens with immediate fireworks on the sometimes funky but chic, "Hold On."

"Bless my heart, bless my soul," Howard wails. "Didn't think I'd make it to 22 years old/There must be someone up above, sayin ' come on Brittany, you got to come on up/You got to hold on."

"Rise To The Sun," has a distinctive free-slowing Bob Marley vibe while Howard tears into "Heartbreaker" where - for better or worse - inevitable comparisons of Janis Joplin are unmistakable.

"Hang Loose" is highlighted by a memorable guitar riff while Howard goes the gospel route on the album's closing track, "On Your Way."

While the Shakes' debut disc is a keeper, the Lane foresees a potential killer sophomore project when the band re-enters the studio.

For now, Howard and company are creating a stir with a number of highly-touted live performances.

Set to depart next week for an extended European tour of sold out dates, AS will play a few U.S. summer festivals with an expected regional stop in Cleveland.

For now, check them out at www.alabamashakes. com

IN 2007, Chris Brown conceived the notion for 'Record Store Day' paying homage to a dying breed of what today is primarily independently-owned and operated record stores across America.

Thus, each April 21, Record Store Day is celebrated as all shop owners come together with artists to celebrate the art of music. Festivities include in-store performances by artists, cookouts, body-painting, meet & greets with bands etc...

Record Store provides a state-by-state listing of current operating stores. Though West Virginia is represented in a number of cities and towns, Wheeling is not among them. And what a shame with several years of historical recording and performances, primarily at Wheeling's Capitol Music Hall.

These memories from Beatle Paul McCartney:"There's nothing as glamorous to me as a record store. When I recently played Amoeba Music (in Los Angeles) I realized what fantastic memories such a collection of music brings back when you see it all in one place. This is why I'm more than happy to support Record Store Day. I hope these kinds of stores will be there for all of us for many years to come..."

Gibson may be reached at



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