Alabama Shakes at the Santa Barbara Bowl (August 14, 2015)
Paul Wellman

n this hot dry American summer, with loudmouths dominating the media’s political coverage, it’s more than just refreshing to see the way people have embraced Alabama Shakes. On Friday, August 14, the Santa Barbara Bowl audience welcomed singer/guitarist Brittany Howard, bassist Zac Cockrell, guitarist Heath Fogg, and drummer Steve Johnson with the whole-hearted fervor usually reserved for the arrival of rain in a drought. The band powered through 20 of the 26 songs they have released so far, opening with “Future People” and closing with “Over My Head,” both taken from Sound and Color, their second album and a number one on the Billboard top 200 chart this spring.

The Shakes’s appeal comes from combining the fiery blues simplicity of Jack White and the Black Keys with Howard’s titanic soul voice, which the 26-year-old wields like a flamethrower. She’s right to refuse too-easy comparisons to the naked desperation that made it impossible for listeners to turn away from the spectacle of Janis Joplin. If there’s any recent precedent for what Howard is doing it’s the achievement of another tragic figure — Amy Winehouse. Both artists discovered a way to capture all the emotional weight of classic ’60s soul while still standing firmly in the present.

Howard’s singing, however, owes more to the style of such male greats as Otis Redding than it does to Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul, who happened to precede Howard on the Bowl’s stage by only eight days this summer. Is there any better way to celebrate this season of maximum sunshine than with unforgettable soul music in the world’s top outdoor venue?


Future People

Always Alright


Hang Loose

Rise to the Sun


Guess Who


Miss You


The Greatest

Gimme All Your Love

This Feeling

Be Mine

I Ain’t the Same

Don’t Wanna Fight



Sound and Color

You Ain’t Alone

Over My Head


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