The album is not without its flaws, it should be noted. A few of the songs on Boys & Girls don't fly with either the energy or confidence of the highlights that bookend the set. There's one of those middle-of-the-album lulls, the kind where you'll skip a track or two to get to the next one you love, but you can't necessarily pick which one of the tracks you skipped wasn't worth your time.
None of the songs here are unworthy, but it's an album that nonetheless feels loaded at the top and the bottom. The production is also at times too murky and leaves many tracks with an imprecision that borders on excessive. The sound is undoubtedly effective, to be sure, and this is hardly a band that calls for crystal-clear clarity in its recorded presentation. It's just possible that a better balance could have been struck to hit that sweet spot that their fellow Muscle Shoals sound flag-bearers, the Drive-By Truckers, occasionally hit with such rewarding satisfaction.
By the end of the album, however, there's a one-two punch in "Be Mine" and "I Ain't the Same" that are as potent as any on record in a long time. And then "On Your Way" carries the album to a blissful conclusion. It's at this point when you've stopped playing spot-the-influences. Alabama Shakes come across as so confident in their sound and their songs, so assured in their performance, that these songs land with the ease of instantly familiar favorites. This is where it's important to remember: This is a debut album. That they are already delivering this album, one of such earthly delights with divine inspiration, is a blessing to all of us listeners.
We get to look forward to the further development of a new, potentially great rock band. In a time when the radio can sound drenched in Auto-tune and dubstep-inspired bass drops, country-twanged tweenage pop balladeers and/or Disney channel-approved stars and starlets, it's tempting to despair that rock & roll is dead—just as generations before have despaired for, well, generations.
Alabama Shakes offer an opportunity to welcome the still-beating heart of rock & roll a new life. There is, as there always seems to be, a new rising crop of young rock & roll bands pushing forth from beneath the surface, ready to shake both bones and booties. Alabama Shakes, welcome to the head of the class.