Brittany Howard could become music’s most famous ex-postal worker since John Prine, but with a gut-wrenching voice that recalls more Lorraine Ellison than the mailman from Chicago.
The Alabama Shakes, behind Howard’s magnificent voice and a nice boost from Drive-By Truckers’ Patterson Hood, gained the attention of tastemakers from Jack White to Adele long before becoming a buzz band at the recent South by Southwest music conference. And the band’s debut Boys & Girls isn’t due for release until April 9.
The four-piece from Athens, Ala. – vocalist and guitarist Howard, guitarist Heath Fogg, bassist Zac Cockrell and drummer Steve Johnson – was originally dubbed simply The Shakes. But when it was discovered another band was already using the moniker, they decided to acknowledge their Southern roots and added Alabama.
With a new name and an EP barely recorded, a regional music blog posted a track from Alabama Shakes’ four-song EP. Hood heard it, and was sold. Within a couple of months, the band was opening for Drive-By Truckers.
From there, Alabama Shakes took New York’s CMJ Music Marathon and won fans including NPR’s Ann Powers and the New York Times’ Jon Pareles, who lauded Howard for authenticity in an era of pre-packaged, neo-soul hitmakers.
Their music is a decidedly Southern amalgam of roots, blues, soul, country and straight-up rock ’n’ roll, with strong songs like “You Ain’t Alone” and “Hold On,” from the forthcoming album. And that voice – at turns wrought with soulful emotion like Ellison, swagger like Plant, and a wail like Janis – is undeniable.
Howard is likely done with her days delivering mail. Alabama Shakes will spend at least part of the spring opening for Jack White, including two nights each at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium and NYC’s Roseland Ballroom, in between treks to the United Kingdom and Ireland.