Alabama Shakes is my one-that-got-away from the CMJ festival a few months ago. There was such a lot of positive word of mouth going around, both online and off, about this band and its feisty lead singer. Yet, for reasons beyond my control, I missed them then and I missed them last week at the Brooklyn Bowl and Mercury Lounge too. So it was with a grateful heart that I bundled my – in the words of Johnny Depp – petite self into Lakeside Lounge with about a hundred other people (and a stray Santa who hadn’t yet passed out from Santacon) to catch one last pit-stop on the band’s NY tour.
And it was there, in a small venue with an unlikely name, that I finally encountered the band and its singer, also with a name so unlikely.
In a venue called Lakeside Lounge, which is neither of those things, situated on Avenue B in Alphabet City, the group takes to the make-shift stage. From the first note, Brittany Howard proves she is the powerhouse of this alt/blues/country rock outfit and, far from any resemblance to a frosty pop princess, she can warm the cold right out of your bones.
“I come from Athens, Alabama, ” she says. “I don’t know much about the city or city people, but ya’ll seem alright.” She also tells us to be nice to each other, seeing as its such close quarters and all. But there’s no need for her to worry about that. Whether pressed up against the wall, standing on a bench, or shoulder to shoulder with another, we’re whoo’ing and yeah’ing in agreement as Brittany breaks it down, the band re-enforcing her every word.
“At least I feel, even if it feels like dying,” she sings. Straight to the stomach.
“But if I sit here to weep, I’ll be blown over by the breeze.” Another one in the gut.
“You ain’t alone, just let me be your ticket home,” she begs, her cry ringing out in the night.
Towards the end of the set, she tells us: “This is when I’m supposed to say something profound and wise, but I don’t know much about that. I just come up and have a good time here.” Of course, she is already doing that very thing she says she doesn’t know much about doing. Channelling Otis Redding, if Mr Redding had been born a woman in the late 80s, Brittany gives voice to emotions – then gives them a bashing so they no longer hurt.
A full length Alabama Shakes album is due in April 2012. In the meantime, listen to their EP here.