It’s a girl named Brittany, singing about fighting and fucking and how she “didn’t think I’d make it to 22 years old.” Run for cover! Actually, Brittany Howard is in total control on the Athens, Alabama, band’s debut, rendering garage-R&B revivalism without a shred of irony. These kids haven’t been at it long enough to aspire to the songwriting prowess of their Muscle Shoals heroes, and they don’t need to; a White Stripes-ian sense of what-the-fuck discovery imbues a debut where even subtle things like “Heartbreaker” swing like wrecking balls. It’s like they Spotified up some old Stax records one afternoon, ran down to their basement and filtered them through their innate garage-band drive.
Howard’s black-dirt gravitas holds it all together. In her glasses and flower-print dresses, she looks a little like a down-home librarian, adding a sense of punk-rock reinvention to music that could feel like mere genre resuscitation. She’s got as much Robert Plant as Janis Joplin in her, whether spooling her love-hound wail over a humid roadhouse shimmy on “I Ain’t the Same” or near-whispering her man-scarred woes on “Boys & Girls.” Mainly, though, she just crushes. “Just let me be your ticket home,” she pleads on “You Ain’t Alone.” Home might be a one-room shack in the backwoods somewhere, so bring your own bottled water. This party might last a while.
Listen to “Hold On”: