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Alabama Shakes, Small Town Big Sounds

Photo of Brittany Howard of the Alabama Shakes

Brittany Howard of the Alabama Shakes

Alabama Shakes, Small Town Big Sounds

Alabama Shakes, the Grammy-winning American blues rock band from Athens, Alabama, is summer in the South: sweet and heavy, smooth and gritty, raw and refined—like a big ol’ mason jar filled with the strongest moonshine.

Photo of Brittany Howard of the Alabama Shakes

Brittany Howard of the Alabama Shakes

Often donning ′50s style sundresses, a tattoo of Alabama outlined on her bicep and hair curled up into her signature pomp, lead singer-guitarist Brittany Howard spoons up a healthy dose of charm. But as Howard states in an interview with the Telegraph, “We never expected to become so big, so everything was exciting at first. Everything was new to us. But we were also being treated as a novelty… we were made out to be a retro, cute band. I found it frustrating.”

As soon as Alabama Shakes steps on stage, it becomes clear that their brilliance extends beyond the realm of “cute.” Howard, for one, puts function before form: the shoes come off and her mouth gapes wide open in odd cartoonish shapes while her eyes roll back as if she’s in pain. You get the sense that her overly-expressive face is not for show but entirely utilitarian; it’s the coal powering her steam engine voice.

You get the sense that her overly-expressive face is not for show but entirely utilitarian; it’s the coal powering her steam engine voice.

And boy, does that voice chug up some impossible hills.

While the band jams hard on some deep-south blues rock, Howard seamlessly slides from heavy soul melodies into smooth jazzy soprano notes in the song “Sound and Color” and then immediately screeches back down into wild alto funk vocals in the songs like “Don’t Wanna Fight” and “Gimme All Your Love.” A few backup singers support her with honeyed doo-wop tunes.

Alabama Shakes will be touring the United States through September 2016, bringing summer in the South to you. Just don’t expect it to be quaint.

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