The chatter that southern blues-rockers Alabama Shakes have generated in the months leading up to their debut is usually reserved for legends twice their age, or at least groups with more than a couple of songs to their name. There have been Janis Joplin and Otis Redding comparisons, endorsements from the likes of Jack White and Adele, and fans talking about their raucous live shows like they’re enough to convert you to a new religion. And — if you can believe it — the Athens, Alabama quartet’s full length debut Boys & Girls lives up to the hype.
The first thing that will bowl you over is that voice. “Bless my heart, bless my soul/ I didn’t think I’d make it to 22 years old,” howls singer/guitarist Brittany Howard in the opening moments of stellar single “Hold On,” showing off her gritty, soulful pipes and making those Joplin comparisons feel earned. But they’re not the whole story, either: Boys & Girls finds the Alabama Shakes pulling from the greats of rock and blues (catch the Bo Diddley reference in the opening lyric?) into a distinctive, and occasionally downright personal, sound. (“Come on Brittany!” she hollers to herself. “You gotta come on up!”)
From the barroom piano stomp of “Hang Loose” to the Stones swagger of “Be Mine,” Boys & Girls sounds like the work of a group of weary, wizened road warriors who’ve been playing together for decades, rather than a group who formed a couple of years ago when its principle players were still in their teens. With all this talent and confidence already on full display on their debut, imagine all they can do with the years ahead.