How Big How Blue How Beautiful
For somebody who is just 22 years old, Brittany Howard sounds as if she has packed in a hell of a lot of living.
Howard is a force of nature and also the singer with Alabama Shakes, the Athens, Alabama southern rock and soul band who have gathered celebrity fans including Robert Plant, Jack White and Russell Crowe, and who were the undisputed buzz band at their year's SXSW festival in Texas.
It's easy to understand the hype because Alabama Shakes are palpably the real deal. Musically they specialise in a strain of relentless, hard-grooving soulful boogie that evokes bands as disparate as White Stripes, Led Zeppelin, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Creedence Clearwater Revival while still sounding raw-edged, hungry and thrillingly original.
Yet their trump card is undoubtedly Howard, a charismatic, testifying and asbestos-larynxed blues-soul siren who attacks songs like Hold On and the thunderous You Ain't Alone as if tearing apart the fabric of her very being. Her howl of anguish on the desolate Heartbreaker could be Janis Joplin, or Tina Turner at her vivacious peak. It's a staggering achievement.
Without Howard, Alabama Shakes would be an exceptional bar-boogie band. With her, they are unstoppable. They are going to own the festivals this summer.