It is always a joy and a delight to discover the roots of a talented new band who clearly cut their groove in live performance. Alabama Shakes is just that sort of young band. Their energy and verve are infectious and they achieve the difficult task of sounding both Old School Blues and New Century Groove at the same time. Alabama Shakes are a younger, if uglier, Black Keys — but with more musicianship and better soul.
Here’s how the Shakes got their start:
The story of the Alabama Shakes begins in a high school psychology class in Athens, Alabama. Brittany Howard, who had started playing guitar a few years earlier, approached Zac Cockrell and asked if he wanted to try making music together. “I just knew that he played bass and that he wore shirts with cool bands on them that nobody had heard of,” says Howard.
They started to meet up after school and write songs sitting on Howard’s floor. “It had that rootsy feel, but there was some out-there stuff,” says Cockrell. “David Bowie-style things, prog-rock, lots of different stuff. We started to come across our own sound a little bit, though it’s evolved a lot since then.”
The lovely thing about Alabama Shakes is they know how to let a song breathe. There’s nothing wrong with silence and a rolling musicality that starts and stops like a Ferris Wheel. There is a gritty joy in that rollicking free will that becomes the group by enlightening us all.
The only unfortunate thing about listening to the Alabama Shakes is sensing a great and overwhelming fear that something awful and irreparable is about to happen. That tension between delight and gloom is an effective, elastic, connection between band and listener — but for the prescient among us — we certainly hope that premonition of Tragedies to Be Announced Later is nothing but misguided showmanship and not rooted in some deeper and sadder reality that will eventually be revealed to the rest of us.