In 2012, every other mainstream female pop singer is trying her hand at honest-to-God soul, shooting stylistically for Aretha Franklin (by way of Adele's 21) but usually winding up closer to early-Nelly Furtado. It's depressing. But even if we're currently in the Soul Music Dark Ages, nobody seems to have informed 23-year-old Alabama Shakes vocalist Brittany Howard, one of the most jaw-dropping, bitch-slapping frontwomen to come along in years — a sultry, sassy spitfire who summons deeply burning soul like a mad, raving snake-charmer. The Shakes have already been blowing minds onstage since their formation (back in 2009, after a chance meeting in high school psychology class), but the true test comes with Boys & Girls, their full-length debut. The great news is that even the bad news is good news: Alabama Shakes have a hell of a lot of growing to do, but even their slightest tunes pack a punch. At times, it sounds like the quartet just got together in a rehearsal space, kicked around some old Janis Joplin and Otis Redding tunes, and changed a lyric or two. While the grooves are still thick and effortless (showing off the versatility of guitarist Heath Fogg, bassist Zac Cockrell, and sticks-man Steve Johnson), joints like "Heartbreaker" and closer "You Ain't Alone" feel mostly like launching pads for Howard's husky flights of fancy. But in spite of those minor quibbles, Boys & Girls is a retro-soul wet dream: every sound is hilariously vintage — from the purring Hammond organs and bubbling bass to the grimy production (album standout "I Found You" sounds like it was recorded with a tin can in a truck-stop stall). But Boys & Girls rises above nostalgia. It's soothing like a weathered old jukebox crammed with long-forgotten hits.
ALABAMA SHAKES + LEE BAINS III & THE GLORY FIRES | Paradise Rock Club, 967 Comm Ave, Boston | April 15 @ 7 pm | 18+ | SOLD OUT | 617.562.8800