The first thing you notice about Alabama Shakes is Brittany Howard's voice: a soulful wail that splits the difference between Janis Joplin and the southern gospel at the root of so many of the band's songs. But a couple of minutes into their debut album, you begin to realize that the entire group comes together in a way that recalls the ace session musicians who played on so many of the classic Stax songs from the '60s. And then the punk parts hit you. From the snaking pull of "Hold On" to "Hang Loose"'s rolling R&B moves to the old-school chord progressions in "I Ain't the Same," this is southern garage soul informed as much by Otis Redding as the Drive-By Truckers. They're sorta like Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, but with more greasy grit. And they're the best new band of 2012. — Michael Gallucci
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