Alabama Shakes.

Alabama Shakes.

Reviewer rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

The Forum
January 24

IF THERE'S a band that's had to learn how to swim in the deep end quickly, it's the Alabama Shakes.

Their debut EP is just 18 months old and their first full-length album, Boys & Girls, hasn't even been around a year. And yet here they are, touring with the Big Day Out after earning Grammy nominations and playing for the likes of US television hosts Conan O'Brien, David Letterman and Britain's Jools Holland.

But as they took to the Forum's darkened stage on Thursday night to a sold-out crowd's whoops and cheers, there was little sense that the hype and momentum of the past year risked overtaking them. Doing away with their breakout single Hold On early, frontwoman Brittany Howard's voice lived up to all the promise of her band's record of soulful blues and rock'n'roll.

Tender and raw, it simmered through songs such as Rise to the Sun before bubbling over in the soul-rending Heartbreaker.

The much-touted comparison to Janis Joplin was never truer than in You Ain't Alone, and the soaring crescendo of guitar, bass, drums and gospel keys was a tribute to the legacy of the man behind many of Joplin's hits, songwriter and producer Jerry Ragovoy.

It's not fair, though, to simply list the music legends the Alabama Shakes remind you of because they're undoubtedly a band with their own sound - albeit with clear influences. And Howard is the key to that.

Taking the enraptured audience through a journey from lonely ballads to foot-stomping rockabilly, her emotional range was remarkable and her lyricism poignant.

The line ''Now they put me on a plane and I'm flying in to some place that I've never been'', from the mournful I Still Ain't Got What I Want, was the only sign that, just perhaps, the success of the past year has not come without its cost.