Album of the Week: Heavy Chevy EP, Alabama Shakes

WARNING: This is one for the truly devoted crate-diggers among you. I discovered these songs on a bonus 45 that was included with my vinyl copy of the Shakes’ debut album–I don’t think it’s available separately. Good luck! We now return to your regularly scheduled program:

No one who has heard their album Boys and Girls can doubt that Alabama Shakes know how to rock. But they have never sounded as fierce, as frenetic, as they do on this three-track EP. Here, their influences are a little more clearly on display, with a great mix of early rock & roll/R&B sounds.

“Heavy Chevy” begins with Brittany Howard’s voice turned up to 10. She has the rawest voice in popular music today—putting her in Janis Joplin and Big Mama Thornton territory. Seriously. The band comes in with a fantastic energy that owes more to punk rock than some of their more contemplative album cuts. It’s one of those songs where you don’t necessarily understand all of the words but don’t need to in order to know that it’s about boys and girls (hey, what a great album name!) and proving that you’ve got what everyone else doesn’t.

“Pocket Change” has a great early 60’s pop sound, complete with the requisite organ part and a guitar riff that is a distant cousin of Mungo Jerry’s classic “In the Summertime.” It’s light fare that might have worked well on the album as a bit of a breather from some of the heavier stuff, both lyrically and musically. Maybe it’s a little derivative, but oh well.

“Mama” has a classic early rock & roll structure, with slapback echo on the guitar and a straight ahead drumbeat, but also boasts a really funky breakdown and Howard’s great vocals. What’s so great about this song—and about this EP more generally—is that Alabama Shakes can combine a bunch of vintage musical elements in ways that wouldn’t have happened when these styles were developing in the late 50s. Big Mama Thornton wouldn’t have played with Carl Perkins no matter how much each of them may have wanted to. So really, the songs on this EP represent a progression and natural outgrowth of the source material; modern music with vintage antecedents. And that’s maybe the hippest thing of all.