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Shakin' in Alabama with the Alabama Shakes--Souful Music Near the Shoals

Posted: Dec 08, 2011

The small town of Athens, Alabama (not Athens, Georgia) has made national music news thanks to the hot new group Alabama Shakes. Three of the four band members hail from East Limestone High School in a little community east of Athens and the fourth is from Elkmont, Alabama. 

Alabama Shakes was just named by Paste Magazine as the best new band of 2011. Josh Jackson, co- founder and editor-in-chief of  Paste wrote “At some point, God decided to take the voices of Janis Joplin, Robert Plant and Tina Turner and roll them all up into the body of Brittany Howard. She also happens to front a band that sounds like it just sprouted fully formed from the clay of Muscle Shoals.”

 
Alabama Shakes has already opened for the Drive-By Truckers several times this year. DBT is an internationally known Southern rock group headed up by Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley who are from Muscle Shoals, Alabama. You can catch a glimpse of the Truckers' drum set on the Alabama Shakes You Tube video "You Ain't Alone." Next month the Alabama Shakes will be touring the west coast, and in February they will be playing gigs in England. The February 22 concert in London is already sold out. 
 
Three of the four group members, lead singer Brittany Howard, guitarist Heath Fogg, and bassist Zac Cockrell, all attended East Limestone High School.  Just a few years ago Brittany Howard was singing with the East Limestone marching band and now her name has become synonymous with southern soul. The sudden rise to fame of the Alabama Shakes, like that of the folk rock duo The Civil Wars (currently nominated for two Grammy Awards), is positively meteoric.
 
The band members were in different grades, but all knew of each other. Fogg said, " “I knew Zac. We grew up on the same street.”
 
 
“And I knew who Heath was,” Howard said. “He played in the only band at our school. I thought they were awesome and I would go see them all the time.” That band was Tuco’s Pistol.

Howard and Cockrell had been making music together for years when they met their soon to be drummer, Elkmont native Steve Johnson, at the only music store in Athens Alabama — Railroad Bazaar. “We got to talking,” Howard said. “It was like — here’s our drummer.”

Nashville Scene says of Alabama Shakes, "NPR music critic Ann Powers noted the pre-packaging inherent in retro soul, but pointed to Howard's artistic self-determination, describing the 22-year-old singer as 'a young woman living in the now, wrapping her arms around a tradition without letting it carry her away.' New York Times music critic Jon Pareles celebrated the contrast between The Shakes and the typical CMJ buzz band — one that's 'built around some cool-headed concept involving noise or irony or ambiguities or primitivism.' "
 
Scene goes on to say, "Their singing and playing sounds hungry, dynamic and heartfelt throughout 'You Ain't Alone' and the rest of the tracks on their EP, originals with an almost gospely spirit of uplift that touches and transcends the personal."

This Christmas season millions will hear the Alabama Shakes belt out the soulful song "You Ain't Alone" in the Zales Jewelry Company's new  television ads. Zales is a Huntsville based jewelry company that went national in 1998 and has over 1,800 stores in North America and online. Not bad publicity for a brand new band.

You can listen to the Alabama Shakes on You Tube, friend them on Facebook, and follow them on Twitter.You can also download their four song EP from their web site, Alabama Shakes.com. Soon I hope you will be able to buy their cd. The Alabama Shakes make me proud to be from Athens, Alabama.

 

 

 

----Penne J. Laubenthal

Further reading on Swampland

Drive-By Truckers

The Civil Wars and "Barton Hollow"

 

 

 

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