Alabama Shakes

Jesse Kornbluth, on a new band that is not slick, wears street clothes, and plays it like they mean it.

I think it all the time: Where is the successor to Otis Redding? Janis Joplin? Mavis Staples? Why can’t any young band — and I do mean any band that’s not the Rolling Stones or Jack White — play the soulful rock and roll that pulls me out of my chair and makes me fling myself around the room like a dancing fool?

Seriously, you can grow old waiting for this band to appear. Your teeth can fall out. Your skin can wrinkle.

But with hope veering toward extinction, Alabama Shakes shows up.

I play one song. Crank it higher. And quickly find that dancing in my chair is just not sufficient response.

Hype? Okay, skeptic, check out a video:

Right. As I said. That’s the classic recipe: pounding drums, thudding bass, a singer named Brittany Howard, and some fairly desperate lyrics:

Pass me the whiskey, Pass me the gin/ Pass me whatever that’s going to let me in/ Well I don’t care if it’s 7 in the mornin’/ For all I care it could be the second comin’/ You said you couldn’t take it anymore/ You can’t live like this, it’s a really big deal/ I don’t care, I can’t pay attention/ I don’t give a fuck about your attention at all…

So. Now we’re all sitting back with stupid smile and a clichéd response: “Fuck, yeah.” And don’t we want to forward this little rave and make our friends listen? Only, in the background is a little voice saying, “Hold on. You don’t want to come off like an asshole here.”

Well, maybe you can hold back. It’s too late for me. I am goony for Alabama Shakes, head over heels for its lead singer, Brittany Howard. And if you’re listening to any new music, I think you should grab this ASAP. [To buy the CD from Amazon, click here. For the MP 3 download, click here.]

But you, you have questions: Who are these kids? Where did they come from?

Glad you asked, for it’s a lovely story. They met in high school, in Athens, Alabama (population: 22,000). They practiced after school, officially became a band in 2009. Gigged around. Got heard, got loved, got to be an opening act, got to record, got great reviews, got a world tour.

Do they have a hit? Not yet, but they have a song on the soundtrack of “The Silver Linings Playbook.” They do, however, have a signature song. And it’s some signature:


I love Alabama Shakes not only because they’re so solidly, fundamentally exciting, but also because there’s justice in their success. We all know who Brittany Howard was in school: not one of the cool kids. Stout, with an ass like a ’58 Buick. Curly hair. Glasses. No doubt she sat in the back of the classroom, unnoticed, scrawling in notebooks and dreaming of better. In the yearbook, the prediction probably was that she’d become a nurse. In fact, her day job was at the post office. And now, at 23, she’s a star. How cool is that?

The band took special care to leave some mistakes on the record. They perform in street clothes. They’re not slick in any way. And they don’t want to grow up to be anything but real. “I’m not the best guitar player,” Brittany Howard says, “but I’ll certainly play it like I mean it.”

As they write in high school yearbooks: Never change.

Buy from Amazon here.

Originally published on

About Jesse Kornbluth

Jesse Kornbluth is is a New York-based writer and editor of, a cultural concierge site he launched in 2004. As a magazine journalist, he has been a contributing editor for Vanity Fair, New York and Architectural Digest. As an author, his books include Airborne: The Triumph and Struggle of Michael Jordan; Highly Confident: The Crime and Punishment of Michael Milken and Pre-Pop Warhol. As a screenwriter, he has written for Robert De Niro, Paul Newman and PBS. On the Web, he co-founded From 1997 to 2002, he was Editorial Director of America Online.

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