Alabama Shakes: celebrating a decade of a defining rock’n’soul voice

A tenth anniversary expansion for Alabama Shakes' southern rock’n’soul landmark, Boys & Girls

Boys & Girls cover art
(Image: © Rough Trade)

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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.

Johnny Sharp

Johnny is a regular contributor to Prog and Classic Rock magazines, both online and in print. Johnny is a highly experienced and versatile music writer whose tastes range from prog and hard rock to R’n’B, funk, folk and blues. He has written about music professionally for 30 years, surviving the Britpop wars at the NME in the 90s (under the hard-to-shake teenage nickname Johnny Cigarettes) before branching out to newspapers such as The Guardian and The Independent and magazines such as Uncut, Record Collector and, of course, Prog and Classic Rock