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 anyÂ resemblanceÂ to a frosty pop princess, she can warm the cold right out of your bones.
â€œI come from Athens, Alabama, ” she says. “I donâ€™t know much about the city or city people, but yaâ€™ll seem alright.” She also tells us to be nice to each other, seeing as its such close quarters and all. But thereâ€™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,”Â she sings. Straight to the stomach.
â€œBut if I sit here to weep, Iâ€™ll be blown over by the breeze.â€ Another one in the gut.
â€œYou ainâ€™t alone, just let me be your ticket home,“Â she begs, her cry ringing out in the night.
Towards the end of the set, she tells us: “This is when Iâ€™m supposed to say something profound and wise, but I donâ€™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.Â 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.Â