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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