Alabama Shakes can be said to benefit from the immediate affection countless will feel for this accomplished blues sound, their Alabama indistinguishable from music you'd more readily associate with Tennessee. There is an appetite for this sound, one that has helped propel certain phases of Jack White's career (who, incidentally, has acknowledged and promoted Alabama Shakes), but also a dissatisfaction among some that concerns heritage and originality. 'Boys & Girls' is at times flawed, but it should be stressed that intrinsic questions of authenticity evaporate upon hearing it.
Aside from White, the Southern group have received various seals of approval, Russell Crowe's presence at gigs helping cue headlines, and in Brittany Howard they have a lead singer of genuine quality in the vain of Aretha Franklin and, as has become customary to cite, Janis Joplin. Though young, the quartet have dabbled with variations on their sound, dipping into roots and progressive sounds while gigging in small venues and bars around the Southeast before ultimately settling on their current, confident identity.
'Boys & Girls' begins with the groups' first single 'Hold On', and while serving as a recognisable conduit into the rest of the LP, it's also an appropriate representative of the piece; the pace drops during the forlorn title track that you wish Amy Winehouse was still around to cover, but the overriding tone is accurately captured by the evocative sheen found on 'Boys & Girls'.
Lyrically, Howard is more than competent, but while her neat turns of phrase and flourishes add a certain texture to the tunes, the album is unfortunately staid and restrained. Alabama Shakes seem accepting of their bygone influences, but their sound would benefit from an indulgence of recklesness in order to offset the overrall containment of the album.
With that said, it would be churlish to prioritise the bland aspects of the record without commending some undeniable achievements. The consecutive tracks 'Hang Loose' and 'Rise to the Sun' emerge as stand-out offerings, their quality surely foreshadowing future successes for the group. The former is positively gleeful, exhibiting the bands' measured soul. Following this, 'Rise to the Sun' showcases the chemistry of Heath Fogg and Zac Cockrell, on guitar and bass respectively.
There is sufficient material here to feel encouraged, and with Brittany Howard fronting the outfit, their star should continue its ascendancy. A self-acknowledged outcast who has suffered personal tragedy with the death of her sister, there is plenty of future material to be mined.
A final resemblance necessary to address is that of Kings of Leon. Sharing more than a geographical proximity, Alabama Shakes would benefit from building on their solid debut by choosing to eschew some of the polish of 'Boys & Girls'. At this point, sonically, they exist in the same sphere as Leons' latter work. They may benefit from heeding their impulses and embracing a more impetuous direction akin to 'Youth and Young Manhood'.