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Alabama Shakes: The Explosive New Face Of Southern Rock

Looking for something new from below the Mason-Dixon line? AC/DC-loving one-woman tornado Brittany Howard and her band could be the answer

To witness Brittany Howard on stage is, frankly, little short of astonishing. Tonight she and her band, Alabama Shakes, are slaying them at Gloria’s, a 50s cinema-cum-theatre in the heart of Cologne. The place is rammed with heaving bodies, full to its near-1,000 capacity, the audience transfixed by the animated woman out front.

Wearing pink floral dress, and with a blue Gibson SG slung over her shoulder, Howard is roaring and shaking her way through a set of songs that sound like the most feverish, guitar-heavy rock’n’soul you’ve ever heard. Her bandmates are great players, too, but it’s noticeable that they stand a few discreet steps behind. Howard is clearly the star attraction here, a force of nature and an extraordinary presence.

Howard the live phenomenon may seem like the most natural thing in Christendom, but she insists it wasn’t always so.

“I was really nervous the first time I went on stage,” she explains earlier, sitting backstage prior to soundcheck, picking at a plate of salad with one hand and holding a beer in the other. “It all went by really quickly. But I was also fearless. My attitude was, ‘Right, here’s your chance. If you hold back, then you’re going to regret it. Just go for it.’ And that’s what I’ve always done.”

Both Howard and Alabama Shakes have come a long way in a very short time. Four years ago they were complete unknowns, playing weekend gigs at places such as Brick Deli & Tavern in downtown Decatur, just south of their home town of Athens, Alabama (population 24,000). All four members, holding down day jobs that they didn’t much care for, spent the rest of the time either rehearsing or driving up to Nashville to record the songs that would eventually surface on their debut album, Boys & Girls. This invariably meant a 100-mile overnight trip home, getting there just in time for work the next morning.

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