Alabama Shakes

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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 first album I ever bought was Cheap Thrills, by Janis  Joplin and the Holding Company. The cover of that album looked like this:

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(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.

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  • Elizabeth

    I love it when you talk music. Crumb’s Genesis rocks, too. It’s actually the first book I bought on your recommendation. Happy weekend, John.

  • Bmac

    This lady rocks it! I love the retro bluesyness and her Janis Joplin style vocals. Totally brilliant. I’m sure Pearl is looking down on her smiling.

  • mike moore

    I hope you caught the Levon Helm Tribute at the Grammys this year … Brittany Howard, Mavis Staples, T-Bone Burnett, Mumford & Sons, and Elton John sang The Band’s “The Weight” (Take a load off Annie), and Brittany was amazing.

    I searched hi and lo for the video, but couldn’t find it … if you have some super secret awesome bloggers-only search engine, it’s a great performance.

  • mike moore

    If you haven’t watched it before, the documentary (mid-1990’s?) “Crumb” is fascinating.

  • Michael C

    Huh, I’ve probably heard that song a hundred times but this is the first time I actually heard the lyrics. Thank’s John.

  • Dang! I’ve not watched SNL since my kids were little. Other than the odd clip. That was kickin!

  • Harrisco

    She gets there… Don’t know how, don’t know why, but she gets there…

  • Allie

    Janis is one of the few singers my very not-musical father appreciates. Gonna share this with him and see if it gets through.

    On a different note, I want that guitar, and that one, and also the other one. Toured the Gibson factory a couple of years ago, which gave me a new appreciation for the tools of the trade. Gibson has like a dozen big ladies who do nothing all day but make your guitar perfect.

  • Allie

    Can’t say I like the R. Crumb thing, because it looks like a Jack Chick tract.

  • Elizabeth

    I had to look up Jack Chick. Um, thanks? Crumb is tough going. He’s licentious and sexist, for starters. Probably a bunch of other -isms. Under that he’s brutally honest and he’s got heart. Recommended.

  • Sarah

    I’m so happy you posted about this John!

    I saw Alabama Shakes perform live here in Argentina. Here’s the video I took of her:

    She is absolutely AWESOME watching in person. She was sweet, sincere, and sung her heart out. When they began, hardly anyone was watching (except me in the front row!!), but by the end of their set, a huge crowd had gathered and were blown away.

    Watch out for the drummer though. He threw a bottle of Jack off the stage after they finished playing. I hope he doesn’t do anything dumb to break up the band.

  • John Fitzsimmons

    loved this thanks for sharing it. It blessed my soul. Will be checkin out more of there stuff. SHALOM.