In case you haven’t yet met her, this is Brittany Howard, lead singer and guitarist of the band Alabama Shakes.
If you missed Alabama Shakes playing their massive hit song (“hit song” = already retroiest phrase ever!) “Hold On” earlier this year on Saturday Night Live, then here’s your opportunity to be shamelessly grateful to be alive in the time that you are. Because:
At fifty-five, I am just old enough to remember a time when music was understood to be something that was not only going to change the world, but save it. (Which is something that of course each generation believes about its own music. Still, it did seem to be particularly true of music in the sixties.)
The first 45 I ever bought was James Browns’ “Mother Popcorn.” (Young people: in the old days, a “45” was the same as today’s “single.” But … more mechanical/sonically pure.) Here’s the indomitable James singing that song on TV somewhere around 1969:
(Fwiw, this isn’t my favorite James Brown song; it’s just not as … deep in the pocket as his best stuff. But, you know: it’s still James Brown.)
(The illustrator of this cover is Robert Crumb, about whom I wrote in my post, R. Crumb’s Monumental “The Book of Genesis Illustrated,” as well as its [sadly inevitable] follow-up post, My Answer to Christians Denouncing R. Crumb’s “Genesis Illustrated.”)
Anyway, today we have the gut-bucketingly beautiful, almost shockingly visceral genius of Brittany Howard. The fact that this artist, so early in her career, could already be as celebrated as she is, makes me feel something near sobbingly optimistic about the state of the human condition generally. (It also makes me fear for the girl—but that’s really a whole other mediaistic rant.)
I know tastes in music are intractably subjective: one man’s heartbreaking tune is another’s offensive cacophony.
But gottdang this girl wails. If her doing this song doesn’t work for you—and I mean doesn’t drop you to your ever-lovin’-broken—knees do it for you—then … well, then we see just how subjective tastes in music are. Which is awesome.
But she sure does that for me.
God bless music.