Alabama Shakes Favor New Songs From Sound and Color at the Beacon

Kari Devereaux for the Village Voice
Alabama Shakes perform on March 11 during first of two consecutive shows at the Beacon Theatre.
"These boys behind me, there's the Alabama Shakes right there," singer and guitarist Brittany Howard noted as she gestured toward her bandmates at the end of the first of two sold-out performances at the Beacon Theatre. "That's my family."

It's a family the 25-year-old former mail carrier has spearheaded to serious acclaim, and one that was eager to show off its new jewels at the Beacon. Though their new album, Sound and Color, isn't out for another month (it's released April 21 on ATO Records), they didn't hold back on new songs and liberally sprinkled proven favorites from their 2012 debut, Boys and Girls, with mostly unfamiliar tunes. The show was bookended by two new tracks, the bluesy "Dunes" and gospel-soulful "Over My Head," slow and new being a considerable test for even the most passionate of fans. But dedicated the fans were, with most jumping up before the first note was played and some — notably, the two enraptured guys slow-dancing as best they could while trapped in their seats — clearly loving the quiet romance of the set.

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Alabama Shakes Bring New Tunes (and Rad Prince Earrings) to SNL

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Alabama Shakes
The last time Alabama Shakes — the Athens, Alabama, powerhouse that transforms the most basic chord progressions into soulful epiphanies better than any Southern outfit out there — hit Studio 8H, the world wouldn't stop talking about two things: Brittany Howard's voice, and Brittany Howard's mouth. With 2012's Boys and Girls came the warmly received debut of the Shakes and "Hold On," the breakout single that had Howard reining in a long note with the skill and might of a rock 'n' roll rodeo cowgirl. "Hold On," easy to sing along with and easier to love, was the tune folks remembered from their several festival appearances in the following year, and also what they started with the first time they played Saturday Night Live, in February 2013. Howard roared, the studio fell all over themselves applauding her vocal prowess, and assholes across the internet cracked jokes at her expense because, yeah, she opens wide when she's letting loose with some serious sound.

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SNL Sound-Off: Alabama Shakes

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After watching Alabama Shakes' Brittany Howard belt her way through "Hold On" and "Always Alright" on Saturday Night Live, I did what I always do--peruse Twitter to see what people have to say about SNL's musical guest--and CHRIST that was an infuriating exercise. In a perfect world, Howard's glorious voice and her icon-in-the-making delivery would be the first thing that people notice when she takes the stage as the frontwoman of a rock band. Maybe Jack White's endorsement would come up in conversation, too, as Alabama Shakes are in the process of putting together a volley of singles to be released on Third Man Records. Their accolade-reaping performances at SXSW, Bonnaroo and Newport Folk in 2012 turned on thousands to their straightforward, frills-free ruminations in C major, and they were hand-picked, alongside Elton John, T-Bone Burnett and Mumford & Sons, for a star-studded performance of "The Weight" that paid tribute to Levon Helm at the Grammys last week.

It's been a huge, huge year for Alabama Shakes. So why the hell can't people shut up about Brittany Howard's huge mouth and focus on her huge voice instead?

See also: Live: Alabama Shakes Keep It Short And Sweet At The Studio

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Live: Jack White Expands His Sound At Roseland

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Benjamin Lozovsky
Jack White w/Alabama Shakes
Roseland Ballroom
Monday, May 21

Better than: Sweating profusely in Wichita.

Jack White doesn't seem like the type to reminisce. He's certainly wrapped in more nostalgia than penny candy, and his unflappable rise as the most artful Americana reconstructionist and thorough throwback rock star of his era has always been based around an ephemeral dialogue with the past. Still, looking longingly inward towards his own experiences and previous work never seemed to fit into White's eccentricities—slowing down for resurrection or remembrance was never an option when constantly moving and expanding one's creative abilities was the key necessity to survival.

But after the dissolution of The White Stripe, White was put in the uncomfortable position of momentary stasis. It was a true turning point, a thoughtful juncture where pure momentum didn't matter anymore. During the first of two concerts at Roseland Ballroom in support of his first solo album Blunderbuss, White seemed more aware of a tangible past than ever.

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Live: Alabama Shakes Keep It Short And Sweet At The Studio

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Brian Chambers
Alabama Shakes
The Studio at Webster Hall
Tuesday, April 11

Better than: Their record.

"Have you seen them live?"

That's the first question people like to ask in regards to the Alabama Shakes.
No, I had not—not until last night. The response I'd get from people who seem to really pay attention to hype was a proverbial (or sometimes literal) headshake. "Buzz" makes people doubt music that they may actually like, instead annoyed by the chatter (online, more often than not) about some band that appeared out of thin air. Totally owning my enjoyment of the Alabama Shakes' recorded material—an EP and an album, Boys & Girls (out yesterday)—the soulful garage-rockers' album release party at the Studio at Webster Hall seemed like the right occasion to finally "experience" them live. And I was not disappointed—the Shakes are, as promised, consistently something to behold in that setting.


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Live: Alabama Shakes Reintroduce Themselves To New York

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Benjamin Lozovsky
Alabama Shakes
Lakeside Lounge
Friday, December 10

Better than: Alabama (the band and the state).

The banks of the Mississippi swell and contract in a brutally accelerated pace, not unlike the current cycle of Internet-fueled indie stardom. Channeling the bona fide heart of that fertile waterway's musical heritage, Alabama Shakes have ridden the rapid storm swell; several notable performances at CMJ this past fall placed the group at the center of the discussion on rising talent, landing them an in-studio performance at NPR, an unexpected nod from Paste as the best new band of 2011, and now a recording contract with ATO Records. Hardly two months after settling in the minds of listeners and finding an audience outside of sleepy Athens, Alabama, they returned to New York last week, performing two sold-out shows at Mercury Lounge and even larger venue Brooklyn Bowl.

As great as those shows most probably were, it must have been infinitely more of a treat to see Alabama Shakes tear down the East Village's Lakeside Lounge Saturday evening. Announced by the band hours before, the impromptu free gig at the long-standing Alphabet City dive bar was an iconic slice of discovery and comforting ambience. Which, coincidentally, could also neatly sum up the band's musical approach.

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