Rarely has the musical heritage of America’s southern states been distilled so skilfully as on the debut album by this quartet from Athens, Alabama. In this reissue it’s repackaged along with live radio session tracks that rival the original studio takes for earthy R&B analogue electricity.
The elastic thwack of Heath Fogg’s guitar and the intense, gutsy emotional thrust of Brittany Howard’s voice are at the heart of their sound throughout, but, as ever with this kind of music, it’s that intangible bluesy groove that you’ve either got or you ain’t got, as exemplified by the slow, sweet roll of Hold On and Hang Loose, the sassy sway of Heartbreaker or the soulful smoulder-turned-lusty hysteria of Be Mine.
Although created by young musicians who formed Alabama Shakes at school, they gel together like seasoned Muscle Shoals hit makers.
The tracks on this version, taken from a live radio session, also show a rockier side to them on the funky strut of Always Alright and the vintage boogie of Mama. Above it all, though, it’s the imperious sound of Brittany Howard, one of the 2010s defining new rock’n’soul voices.