Sunday, January 20, 2013
This is the year's best song in a year of great music--a year that included great new records from Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Jack White, Neil Young, Frank Ocean, Fiona Apple, Japandroids, R. Kelly and Gary Clark Jr. But "Hold On," by Alabama Shakes, takes the cake.
Over a loopy, swampy vibe, Brittany Howard's rough and soulful voice soars from a whisper to a growl in a garage blues gospel soul song of hope and perseverance. When she sings "didn't think I'd make it to twenty-two years old" you believe it. She's not your typical rock diva, no piece of pop tart confection, no producer-designed telegenic product designed to shift units; Howard looks more like a checker at the Safeway (she's not the other Brittney, in other words) but who cares? She's real and she nails it. Some might dismiss this tune as retro, or lump it with some neo-soul or R&B revival, something derivative of old Stax/Volt sides, but this feels real, just listen, and in this age of sampling and auto-tune, when irony rules and pop pastiche is the watchword, we can forget what "real" sounds like. Just listen. Feel it. This is a song of hope and struggle and ultimately triumph--part of a tradition, to be sure, but entirely its own thing and something we could all use a little of, don't you think?