Harlem Shake? Have a better time with Alabama Shakes and Michael Kiwanuka
While the music performed by Alabama Shakes has been called "retro," band frontwoman Brittany Howard doesn't see it as such.
"We just play music we like," she said in a telephone interview in advance of the band's Friday show at Saltair.
The bluesy, soulful rock ensemble from Athens, Ala., has gone places since releasing its 2012 debut album, "Boys & Girls."
The band, which also includes guitarist Heath Fogg, bassist Zac Cockrell and drummer Steve Johnson, was nominated for three 2013 Grammy Awards including Best New Artist, Best Rock Performance for "Hold On" and Best Recording Package.
In the past year, Alabama Shakes has appeared on all of the late-night talk shows and was recently the musical guest on "Saturday Night Live."
And during the 2013 Grammy Awards telecast last month, Howard performed alongside Elton John, Mavis Staples, T. Bone Burnett, Zac Brown and Mumford & Sons for a tribute to the late Levon Helm of The Band.
Since the Grammy telecast, Howard said people around her hometown have started to recognize her. They try to make small talk with her, which she doesn't always welcome, remembering slights from the past.
"They totally treat you differently," she said. "I'm not cool. I'm the same person I was in high school."
Southern sound • Many outsiders associate the band with Muscle Shoals, the legendary area in northern Alabama where acts such as The Rolling Stones, Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, Bob Dylan and Paul Simon recorded. The rootsy, Southern rock-inspired sound these musicians created is chronicled in the documentary "Muscle Shoals," which debuted at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival.
Athens is only a one-hour drive east of Muscle Shoals, but the band didn't set out to put its own stamp on the sound, no matter the similarities.
"I love this music, but I didn't know where it came from," Howard said.
Howard said the band's unique sound was developed during the musicians' youth, spent in the marshy backwoods of the sparsely populated county seat of Limestone County, where the main attractions for kids include the local skating rink and not much else. "There's not a whole lot to do," she said. "You can only play so much Nintendo. It was important to love your friends and family, because that's all you have."
Among those friends was Cockrell, who was in Howard's high-school psychology class. Howard, who had been playing guitar for a few years, said Cockrell played bass and wore shirts of bands she had never heard of. She approached him during class and asked if he wanted to make music together. They met after school and wrote songs sitting on Howard's floor. They eventually added other members to the group and developed a reputation as an explosive live act, mixing AC/DC and James Brown covers with original material.
In late 2011, The New York Times' music critic, Jon Pareles, saw them at the CMJ Festival in New York City. The influential writer gushed, saying the group was "a thunderbolt dressed in bluejeans," with music that's "aching when it's slow and growling and whooping when it's fast."
Since the release of "Boys and Girls," the band has written new material it hopes to eventually include on a second album. "I'm more than ready," Howard said. "We really want to make that second album."
Opening acts • Opening for Alabama Shakes are early-R&B and gospel group Sam Doores & Riley Downing and Michael Kiwanuka, an English soul singer whose parents emigrated to North London after fleeing Uganda and the regime of dictator Idi Amin.
"Growing up was good," Kiwanuka said in a telephone interview. "It was a stable home, my parents are still together, schoolwork was important."
That upbringing included plenty of Van Morrison, Miles Davis and Jimi Hendrix as well as a sound that has endeared him to Alabama Shakes. "I know about Muscle Shoals," he said. "It was that sound that got me into music."
Besides opening for Adele, Kiwanuka released two EPs and a full-length album, "Home Again," in 2012.
Like Howard, he said his "retro" style is not a gimmick.
"If you want to make something old, it would sound contrived," he said. "But the music is coming out of me. It's not forcing it."
Goin' to the Party
When • Friday, March 8, at 7:30 p.m.
Where • Saltair, 12408 W. Saltair Drive, Magna
Tickets • $27 at SmithsTix and 24Tix
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