Release Date: Aug 29, 2015
Record label: N/A
Brittany Howard was already having a banner year in early 2015 thanks to her main band, Alabama Shakes, reaching the pole position on the Billboard charts with their second album, Sound & Color, when she unleashed the eponymous debut from her side band Thunderbitch that fall. With Alabama Shakes, Howard skillfully plays off a number of strands of American roots music, but whatever she couldn't fit into that group she finds space for in Thunderbitch -- namely, the kind of nasty growl that characterizes so much rock & roll that crawls out of the garage. Thunderbitch are very conscious of this lineage: there are songs about wild childs, leather jackets and guitars, all scored to three chords.
By the time Alabama Shakes had finished touring their 2012 debut ‘Boys & Girls’, the quintet had gone from Southern-fried, blues rock outsiders that felt gloriously out of step with the modern world to one of the year’s biggest success stories. Beloved by Radio 2, Jools Holland and your dad, Brittany Howard and her howling cohorts had been co-opted by muso chin-strokers.That allegiance might not necessarily be the whole reason for the 26-year-old’s solo foray as Thunderbitch, but it’s certainly something the project smashes down from the start. To begin: Thunderbitch.
Last week, Alabama Shakes frontwoman Brittany Howard secretly dropped a new LP under the absurdly badass name Thunderbitch. The side project, which also includes members from Nashville rock bands Fly Golden Eagle and Clear Plastic Masks, emerges fewer than five months after the Shakes’ sophomore effort Sound & Color, but Thunderbitch tracks actually started surfacing as long ago as 2012. Like with her main gig, though, Howard’s commanding presence and inimitable vocals propel the quasi-supergroup’s debut.
“I just wanted to rock and roll,” Brittany Howard repeats on “I Just Wanna Rock and Roll”. The Alabama Shakes frontwoman’s thesis for her side project, Thunderbitch, is pretty simple — and on the self-titled debut, she pulls it off. While her main band digs into the roots of soulful blues rock, Thunderbitch takes a stab at garage punk, though still filtered through a slight Southern burn, a la Turbo Fruits or PUJOL.
Brittany Howard of Alabama Shakes doesn't just "reinvent" rock tradition, or "make it her own." She makes it her bitch. Hence this well-named side band, in which she goes on a garage-rock spree with some buddies from Nashville, bringing out the New York Dolls junk-shop strut that's always lingered around the edges of the Shakes' roughed-up Southern rock and soul. Howard yowls about how she's a rock & roll wild child who just doesn't care, even as the surprising amount of craft the band puts into these songs suggests she cares quite a bit: "Leather Jacket" is a Phil Spector-size slop symphony, and "Closer" twists from dark, gritty tension to wailing release for five minutes.
“I’m a wild child!” Brittany Howard shouts on the debut album by Thunderbitch, and she leaves no doubt about it. Thunderbitch is where Ms. Howard, who leads Alabama Shakes, gets to blow off steam playing rock ’n’ roll, whooping and hollering with no pressure to innovate or make big statements. It has self-explanatory song titles like “I Just Wanna Rock n Roll,” “Leather Jacket” and “Eastside Party,” and the music reaches back to Chuck Berry and the Rolling Stones, charged with late-1960s adrenaline.
Alabama Shakes Sound & Color (ATO) Thunderbitch Alabama Shakes rolled into SXSW 2012 and an attendant ACL TV taping riding a tsunami of Janis Joplin comparisons for singer Brittany Howard, without the benefit of a full-length LP. The Athens, Ga., quartet cut a nostalgia-tinged mix of blues, soul, and swamp rock, and the easy move would've been to continue down that tried and true path. Sophomore triumph Sound & Color aims higher.