Alabama Shakes and the German Radio

The German music market is a multibillion-Euro business that’s governed by state authority, feeding citizens with a selection of songs by favoured artists regarded fit and proper for the ears and eyes of resident citizens. What may seem out of character for you is as common as the sight of a street sausage vendor in this neck of the woods.

And who are the “Alabama Shakes” anyway…?

"Alabama Shakes 03" by Fred Rockwood from Simi Valley, CA - Brittany Howard. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
“Alabama Shakes 03” by Fred Rockwood from Simi Valley, CA – Brittany Howard. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Good news is: The Alabama Shakes are coming to town. If you – like us at Leipglo towers – spent the past 3 years in Germany, you’re most likely to have lived in musical oblivion, and hence never heard of a band going by this name. You may be tempted to think that it should be possible to avail yourself of the boundless opportunity the world wide web holds in store for listening to and discovering new music, but you’ll find your hands tied and your musical muscle slacking.

Which reminds us of our (least) favourite pet peeves of leading an expat life in Germany. While the rest of the free world is granted unlimited access to music clips, here the firm hand of the German Espionage Zealots (GEZ) makes sure that you’re at the mercy of the relentless drabness aka the heavy repeat of 10 chart songs and 10 all-time favourites on terrestrial radio. Call it musical blackmailing, call it outrageous, call it unjust. It won’t change the fact that tuning into any radio station will give you nothing but the trivial round of an uninspiring listening experience. Add the objectionable circumstance of having to pay the obligatory radio fee called Rundfunkbeitrag (which is a Bürgerpflicht) to the equation, and you’re all but left with a sour sound in your eardrums.

Still, there’s so much diversity out there! So back to our band called Alabama Shakes. Their 2012 debut album Boys & Girls was a Top 10 success in the US and UK as well as Germany’s neighbouring countries Belgium and The Netherlands. From Rolling Stone to Q Magazine, their two albums received rave reviews across the board of the international press. The Independent wrote on Boys & Girls that ”it’s the sound of a band that knows exactly how to animate its songs with the minimum of effort, to maximum effect.“ Reason enough for the band to be nominated for several Grammy and Brit Awards, their breakthrough single “Hold On” boasting close to 13 million views on YouTube alone.

Having listened to both of their albums and read about their influences, words and names like rock, country, Janis Joplin, The White Stripes, Kings of Leon and similar musical echoes ring out. Just listen to a couple of live recordings on YouTube, and you’ll get the very positive feeling that this band has all the makings of the real deal. The Shakes are not by any means about looks, clothes or clasping to whatever recent fashion bug’s going around. They’re four guys on traditional instruments and a girl that sings and plays the guitar, a concept that’s worked well with bands from Pink Floyd to Pearl Jam, albeit with male singers. And now that rock ‘n’ roll has been reinvented about 5,938,276 times already, this time it experiences a refreshingly down-to-earth and vibrant rendition in the shape of the southern-rooted Alabama Shakes.

Lyrics are of course a fickle beast when it comes to endearing the changeable heart of the gentle beholder. Having listened to the opening lyrics of Hold On, both the singer’s intimacy and urgency give wings to those words formulating a plain and simple truth. And once you’ve fallen prey to this straight-talking musical bird, there ain’t no going back: ”Bless my heart, bless my soul/ Didn’t think I’d make it to 22 years old/ There must be someone up above sayin’/ Come on, Brittany, you got to come on up/ You got to hold on/ Hey, you got to hold on…”

It’s as if Alabama Shakes are singing for all the musical souls living in the musical diaspora that’s Germany’s radio land. Now you got to hold on for a few more days, cos’ Alabama Shakes are about to play at Conne Island, 8:30 p.m., Tuesday, 30 June.

A cosmopolitan butterfly that feels at home where people are friendly and coffee is strong. As a person with a wide range of interests and a low attention span, he succumbs to the charm of novelty all too readily. Literature, film, photography and politics on Mondays, playing dead and g(r)ooming dogs on Tuesdays. Hand him a beer and he’ll talk about football, tell him a lie and he’ll tell you two.

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