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Alabama Shakes

+ (Thunderbitch} + {Brittany Howard}

Never mind ALABAMA 3, there were four (or five) of these dudes, and all appropriately from their namesake state – as in the city of Athens in Limestone County. Southern rock maybe, funky blues & soul definitely, ALABAMA SHAKES were rounded off by a powerful mixed race (white mother/black father) singer/guitarist Brittany Howard, who could be like ANN PEEBLES, AL GREEN or OTIS REDDING one minute, or BETTYE LAVETTE, PRINCE, SHARON JONES and even Caleb Followill the next minute – all rolled into one. Yes, she was that good, identified by her southern drawl and with a rock’n’roll rasp that could strip wallpaper, Brittany is very much her own woman, a woman not to be messed with, backed by a tight rhythm section that would give the Muscle Shoals alumni a run for their money.
Formed in 2009 by high school friends Brittany and bassist Zac Cockrell, the pair of songwriters abandoned all thoughts of performing prog-rock to play southern roots, roping in drummer Steve Johnson, and, in turn, riff-tastic guitarist Heath Fogg. The Shakes, as they were then called, played classic rock and soul covers to local audiences, all under the watchful eye of producer Jeremy Stephens, who was working with the quartet in his Clearwave Recording Studios. To separate themselves from other Shakes combos circulating the area (and beyond), ALABAMA SHAKES got off to a steady start when Rough Trade Records in England released their eponymous EP in September 2011, which led to a call-up to perform at New York’s CMJ Music Marathon showcase; immediately, they added auxiliary/5th member Ben Tanner on keys, etc.
ATO Records duly made a move for the group in their homeland, although the talented Mr. JACK WHITE and his Third Man enterprise bag-netted the band for a live single of `Be Mine’ (b/w `You Ain’t Alone’), both highly rated tracks from their transatlantic Top 10 debut album BOYS & GIRLS (2012) {*7}. On the strength of TV/radio airplay for minor hit, `Hold On’, and for other emotional high spots `Hang Loose’, `Heartbreaker’ and `I Ain’t The Same’, ALABAMA SHAKES performed at the annual Newport Folk Festival. On a down-
point, Brittany and side-line project, Thunderbitch, were robbed at gunpoint that December, although thankfully they escaped unscathed.
A band ready-made for the open-air waft of the festival fraternity, ALABAMA SHAKES had played the Bonnaroo Music & Arts, Bestival, Austin City Limits, BottleRock Napa Valley, Firefly and Glastonbury, but in 2014, time was in hand to record their sophomore set. Lining up to play Coachella Valley, Byron Bay Bluefest (in Australia) and the Rock Werchter festival in Belgium later in the year, 2015 saw the band shimmy to the top of the charts with SOUND & COLOR {*8}.
Although she’d been compared to JANIS JOPLIN by pundits who should know better than to take this lazy, perennial route, the boundless and brisk Brittany was positively rocking in her throwback to 60s soul, gospel, blues and country. The muscular `Don’t Wanna Fight’, the rootsy psychedelic `Future People’ and the heart-wrenching `Gimme All Your Love’, were just three tracks to raise one’s pulse above the norm, the rest were street-cred and a soundtrack for a new generation of funky dudes in the mood for a slick soul revival.
With ALABAMA SHAKES rested in order for Brittany to turn her hand to other projects such as fronting punk-R&B sextet for the eponymous THUNDERBITCH (2015) {*6}. This outfit consisted of Clear Plastic Masks alumni Matt Man (aka Matt Menold) – guitar, Char Man (aka Charles Garmendia) – drums, A Man (aka Andrew Katz) – vocals, tambourine, plus Fly Golden Eagle members ThunderMitch (aka Mitch Jones) – keyboards, and B Bone – bass. However, this record didn’t quite give her the impetus to set up shop on her own.
ALABAMA SHAKES were briefly back in circulation when they won a Grammy in 2018 for their live performance of 1920s-sourced `Killer Driller Blues’.
Turning 30, and after a short spell alongside Jesse Lafser and Becca Mancari, a la Bermuda Triangle (for single `Rosey’), BRITTANY HOWARD picked September 2019 to unleash her funky soul-rock solo set, JAIME {*8}. The retro record was autobiographical in part, dedicated and named, as it was, to her sister who died of a rare cancer when she was only 13. Receiving rave reviews from all quarters which enabled the set to crack the Top 20 (Top 40 in the UK), songs such as `Georgia’, `History Repeats’ and `He Loves Me’ expanded her street cred. Another highlight was indeed `13th Century Metal’, a collaboration alongside veteran jazz components Robert Glasper (keyboards) and Nate Smith (drums), whilst there was a peppering of influences from MARVIN GAYE, AL GREEN, CURTIS MAYFIELD and PRINCE.
© MC Strong/MCS Apr2015-Sep2019

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