herald

Saturday 1 October 2016

pop

My, how they've grown.

Last week, a tweet from Ringo Starr pointed out that Joe Walsh (The James Gang and The Eagles) and himself had just enjoyed a gig by this quartet whose debut album, Boys & Girls, caused quite a stir when it arrived in 2012.

Back then, it was Russell Crowe and Robert Plant who were hip to the tip. But the signs were hugely positive that the band fronted by Brittany Howard could be huge.

At the time, I noted that they possessed an unerring sense of musical dynamics that made you want to hear their songs again to try to catch "the notes they leave out".

Of course, that sort of thing could prove to be the kiss of death in a marketplace where commercial artists have forgotten about the tease and opt to just lorry everything into a song for instant impact.

This week, we've been commemorating the legacy of another singer from Alabama. Percy Sledge had his chart-topping hit When A Man Loves A Woman in 1966. The world, Mick Jagger and Michael Bolton paid attention.

Today, down on the Tennessee River, the man who engineered that recording at Muscle Shoals studios, Jimmy Johnson, is still stuck for words to describe the voice. "It gave us chills," he says.

No one's saying Brittany is the new Percy or any such flimflam. But, just hear how the lass works her way through emotional confusion on Over My Head, the song that closes out this 12-track set, and then talk to me about a voice that can make you shiver on a sultry afternoon.

There's an electric piano that's shimmering so much you might think someone slipped something in your drink. And a rhythm section that plays like men twitching in their sleep, as Howard piles one testifying voice on another, circling a truth that's so powerful, it's already changing her world.

"Loving so deeply I feel it through all my past lives," she sings. That's deep. That's soul.

The Shakes have pushed on from their enthusiastic debut. The new songs reveal greater depth and range. As on Don't Wanna Fight, Heath Fogg's precision guitar riffs carry extraordinary weight. And all the while, Howard's voice is squealing, cajoling and lamenting with an intensity that mocks the histrionics of most chart acts.

Strings grace the stripped back This Feeling, a slow-burn exultation. "It feels so nice to know I'm gonna be alright."

Their garage abandon remains intact with The Greatest sounding like The Strokes doing a Velvet Underground impression. In a good way.

They can still evoke the spirit of Otis Redding, most noticeably on the coiled spring that's Miss You, but they're totally reinventing down home southern-fried soul, and a lot more besides.

HHHHI

Sound & Color (Rough Trade)

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