Never have I known a band whose sound comprises the genres 'gospel' and 'rock' work music industry bigwigs into such a frenzy. After a low-key EP release last year, Alabama Shakes quickly had people touting them as the band to watch in 2012 and the stream of critically lauded sell-out shows that followed affirmed their new-found status. Needless to say, their debut album Boys and Girls is hotly anticipated and has a lot to live up to off the back of gnarly lead single 'Hold On'.
It is this track that opens the record and reminds us why Alabama Shakes' sound has made us sit up and pay such undivided attention. Lead singer Brittany Howard soulfully howls his way through tormented lyrics including 'Bless my heart/Bless my soul/Didn't think I'd make it/To twenty-two years old'; indicating that this record is (thankfully) going to be more than just a set of contrived lyrics masked by some ridiculously cool riffs and forthcoming crescendos. 'I Found You' highlights their disposition towards the gospel genre, although interestingly there is also a definite sense of 60s Motown which provides an intriguing addition to the instrumental composition of the track. The bounding melodies and rousing vocals of 'Hang Loose' draws the listener back in to the Shakes' Deep-South sound whilst the softer, lethargic pace of 'Goin' To The Party' is perhaps reflective of the calmer pace of life in the Southern states.
'Heartbreaker' is a stirring, impassioned track that truly conveys the depth and effect that Howard's vocals have on the listener. He wails his way through lyrics such as 'How was I to know you were a heartbreaker' and 'Why, oh why, did you have to cry' with such conviction that every pained note stings us to the core. Fortunately, tracks such as 'I Ain't The Same' with their thrashing percussion and animated harmonies lift us out of any depths of soulful melancholy these more intense tracks have pulled us into.
Alabama Shakes are undoubtedly going to draw comparisons to Tennessee favourites Kings of Leon who have perfected the Deep-South vibe down to a tee. The instrumentals are strikingly similar although not in a copycat manner but it's Howard's vocals which are perhaps the most parallel feature; his inflections and bawls are at times eerily resonant of Caleb Followill's. This is however, far from a negative as Kings of Leon's more individual sound has brought them huge levels of success and there is no reason why Alabama Shakes upon sustaining the quality of material this debut displays cannot eventually emulate this themselves.
So, does Boys and Girls prove that Alabama Shakes were worth such abounding hype? Generally, yes. Granted, 'Hold On' remains one of the stand-out tracks of the record and you do feel that a proportion of songs featured are striving to be just as good without quite hitting the mark. However, there are definitely tracks on here that after a few listens are equally worthy of such acclaim that the lead single has garnered. Their ardent lyrics, gospel spin on the rock genre and distinctive vocals certainly sets them apart from a number of their peers and these elements combined will ensure that Alabama Shakes are a band to watch not only this year but for many yet to come.