Will Alabama Shakes get a hold on Minneapolis?
With the release of their debut album Boys & Girls a couple of weeks ago, Alabama Shakes put forth yet another record the roots of which can be traced back to the Flying Burrito Brothers, CSN&Y and the early '70s bands of their ilk. It's easy on the ears, and filled of songs that'll foster a string of singalongs at campfires everywhere this summer. In short, the Shakes sound like country music that it's okay to admit you like and there isn't necessarily anything wrong with that.
When "Hold On" was released a couple of months ago, it was, unsurprisingly, an instant hit on our local public radio station the Current. People in this town are inexplicably drawn to music in this vein like a moth to flame.
It's not a bad thing, but just sort of a curious occurrence. Dawes sold out shows here long before they did anywhere else in the heartland. While much of that could also be attributed to the Current, the twangy guitars, plunking pianos, and the like are always a huge hit in this city and I would wager would be a hit with crowds even without the so-called "Current Effect" that causes shows to sell out here that do not in other cities -- even giant ones like Chicago.
The countrified rock put forth by Alabama Shakes is tailor-made for Minneapolis. For years, this city has gone rabid for bands in this genre starting from Wilco to Drive-By Truckers and the list goes on. Once called Americana -- and, really, still called that, though the genre now has numerous splinter cells -- it has always been enormously popular here and shows no sign of waning. With every new band in this genre that pops up on the radar, so, too, does a new crop of fans -- or more likely the same group of fans who have all found a new band to love. Alabama Shakes play here in August and while it's not sold out yet, but the time the show rolls around it most certainly will be. Unlike Dawes, in particular, though, the Shakes instantly made a fairly large splash across the country.
In reading reviews of Boys & Girls, whether good or bad -- though the vast majority have been glowing -- one phrase seems to crop up in nearly every one: "stripped down." Those two words both perfectly describe the sound and also may explain a lot about the rise of this just two-year-old band, a rise that really could be described as meteoric.
The songs have simple melodies and concise lyrics. While many people, this writer included, will profess to love music that's semi-complicated and "new" and while that statement may indeed be true, when songs are simply arranged they sound familiar, even if they really aren't. Alabama Shakes sounds like a record that was in your dad's collection forty years ago though it's likely better, save for his copy of Harvest. It's musical comfort food that sounds like you've been listening to it since you were a little kid in the basement of the house you grew up in.
Humans are nostalgic for the things that made them happy in the past and Alabama Shakes fits that bill even though they're brand new. They have fit themselves into a tiny crevasse previously occupied only by Wilco's pre-YHF discography and DBT's Southern Rock Opera in furnishing the listening public with something that's never really been heard before and making it seem exceedingly familiar.
And not familiar in that "this sounds like a rip-off" way in the least. Rather, the Shakes combined southern-fried rock, country, and the sun-drenched Laurel Canyon sound into an intoxicating mixture that, if the first album is any indication -- and to be fair the band indeed sounds like they are still growing, which is an excellent sign -- could signal the arrival of a band for the ages when all is said and done. A lot can happen between a debut and a sophomore release (see: Interpol's Antics) but Alabama Shakes seem to have hit upon something that is going to keep them afloat for a long while.
Alabama Shakes. With Dry the River. Thursday, August 2 at First Avenue. Tickets on sale Friday, April 27 at 10 a.m. Click here.
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