A not-so-scientific ranking by The OA editors of the Top 15 acts in or from Alabama today.
The Dexateens have had glowing reviews in MOJO MAGAZINE and other outlets but are lacking reception stateside. While they tend toward the more countrified flavors of the indy spectrum, The Dexateens' live show betrays their beer-spattered garage-punk roots, involving head-banging, mic wrestling, and bandmates generally crashing into each other recklessly as if set off by a sparking fuse. They have five albums to their credit already—maybe it's time you got a hold of one.
"Annalee" by Dexateens
ANDRE WILLIAMS (Birmingham)
"Just because I sing and dance after midnight," Andre Williams coos in this song, in a voice that is the aural equivalent of a swagger, "Just because I take a drink or two..." A careening bass drum trades beats with coolly restrained handclaps. The beat gives way to a swerving guitar solo. "That don't mean I don't like America. I like America just like you." By the end of the song, the hepcat Williams is howling and grunting "he he hooo," and you can almost picture Osama bin Laden turning the stereo up and strutting the funky chicken across his cave shouting, "I like America, too!"
"America" by Andre Williams (Courtesy of Bloodshot)
SHELBY LYNNE (Frankville)
Surely someone has told you about Shelby Lynne by now. Any country music connoisseur (as in, one who's familiar with the annals of true country) would know about the lower-Alabama native and semi-renegade rising star. Try to find a female vocalist with a more heart-worn and affecting voice; I dare you.
"Where I'm From" by Shelby Lynne (Courtesy of Shelby Lynne)
THOMAS FUNCTION (Huntsville)
Yowling vocals; a locomotive backbeat; shimmery background whispers filling the few empty spaces in the band's sound. After listening to this treble-heavy track from Huntsville garage punks Thomas Function, you might want to jump out of your skin—if only to dance.
"Snake in the Grass" by Thomas Function (Courtesy of Thomas Function)
THE SECRET SISTERS (Muscle Shoals)
If you have a penchant for eerie close-harmony sibling vocalists (à la The Browns, Louvins, Everlys, etc.)—The Secret Sisters will scratch your itch. The Muscle Shoals girls hearken back to that era of country music so accurately, each of their ballads sound as timeless as their voices are golden and earnest. Plus, you can catch them live at our Alabama Music celebration in Birmingham on February 5th.
"Tennessee Me" by The Secret Sisters (Courtesy of Universal Republic/Beladroit Records)
THE GREEN SEED (Birmingham)
The Green Seed is a three-person hip-hop outfit roaming the streets of Birmingham, helmed by founding MC R-Tist. Their tracks are accessibly melodic and constructed with the sensibility of classic '90s forebears like De La Soul—and, like De La, offer messages of positivity and cultural awareness with deft humor as opposed to wearisome sermonizing.
"Crack Kills" by The Green Seed (Courtesy of Justin Gaar)
PINE HILL HAINTS (Florence)
"The Haints had just one record for sale that night: a CD called THE DEVIL'S BACKBONE/THE COLD, COLD HAND. It came in a brown cardboard sleeve decorated with simple but elegant images seeming to hail from that vague wide borderland between fringe religion and the true occult. This made sense for a band named after a bunch of ghosts and that used to practice in a cemetery."
From Justin Taylor's piece on the Pine Hill Haints here.
"My Bones Are Gonna Rise Again" by the Pine Hill Haints (Courtesy of K Records)
MAN OR ASTRO-MAN? (Auburn)
Theramins, Tesla coils, space suits, surf rock: not things a visitor would expect to find in Auburn, Alabama. That is, unless they're familiar with Man or Astro-man?, the sci-fi obsessed reverb rockers that formed there in 1992 and have since gone on to tour the world—and maybe beyond. Here, the band brings their absurd theatrics and laser-sharp guitar tracks to the stage in Portland, Oregon. "Inside the Atom" is as good or better than anything else the band has put out—even their cover of the MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000 theme song.
"Inside the Atom" by Man or Astro-man?
BILLY BANG (Mobile)
For the past twenty-six years, Birmingham-born Billy Bang has plucked, strummed, and bowed his violin to create some of the most searing avant-garde tracks around. He's played with Sun Ra, Bootsy Collins, Ronald Shannon, Arlo Guthrie, and countless others. Before all this, he was a member of an underground revolutionary guerilla group, and in the 1970s, blazed his way across the South visiting pawnshops to stock up on automatic weapons for the revolution. He was a grunt in Vietnam, too. Today, though, the only trace of those former days is in the subject matter of his songs and the deadly aim of the notes he plays. "Tunnel Rat" is an epic, scrambling swirl of Eastern and Western melodies and memories, off the album, VIETNAM: THE AFTERMATH.
"Tunnel Rat (Flashlight and a .45)" by Billy Bang (Courtesy of Justin Time Records)
DYLAN LeBLANC (Muscle Shoals)
Dylan LeBlanc's soft baritone comes across so gingerly in this track it feels at times like it's fading between this realm and the next. So when fellow Alabamian Emmylou joins in on backing vocals, it's a perfect ethereal complement. To add another tidbit of Alabama musical history, this album was forged in the fires at FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, where LeBlanc kicked around as a kid.
"If the Creek Don't Rise" by Dylan LeBlanc feat. Emmylou Harris (Courtesy of Rough Trade)
DAN SARTAIN (Birmingham)
In "Touch Me," Dan Sartain plays a galloping guitar riff and sounds alternately like a dark, sexy cavalier and a twenty-first-century, fresh-faced punk. His irreverence comes through even when he's trying to sound cool, and the result, here, is a song that's coy and sincere—a rockabilly tango that's full of oddball charm.
"Touch Me" by Dan Sartain (Courtesy of One Little Indian)
AZURE RAY (Birmingham)
Before they left town for Omaha, Nebraska, Birmingham's Azure Ray played dreamy lo-fi folk pop. They still do, though now the music's more refined, cleaner and sweeter. In this track, off their 2010 album DRAWING DOWN THE MOON, someone beats on a floor tom like it's a front door, and they're asking to be let in. Maria Taylor and Orenda Fink open up and warm the listener with their crystalline guitars and hushed voices. "If I can make your heart feel always joy," the duo sings in a lulling cadence, "I would walk a thousand miles for you to always feel joy."
"Make Your Heart" by Azure Ray (Courtesy of Saddle Creek)
Here, the two classic tropes in American rock & roll—cars and girls—are turned into a lightning-fast rap by a white kid from Gadsden, Alabama, named Michael Wayne Atha, aka Yelawolf. But the music—a loose-snared backbeat holding down rhymes spit out with a falsetto sneer—is as raunchy and innuendo-filled as anything Jerry Lee Lewis ever played. "My box Chevy, that's my girlfriend," Yelawolf gloats in the chorus before going on to make a pun about how good his car looks when it's waxed. "She's always ready...."
"Box Chevy: Part 2" by Yelawolf
WILL KIMBROUGH (Mobile)
"'I think he's one of the best guitar players in American music,' says Josh Rouse. 'He's a chameleon to all these people and their music—he'll blend in, but with his signature mark.'
"All of Kimbrough's experience and all of the traits that make him an in-demand session player—flexibility, versatility, even honest-to-goodness virtuosity—have enabled him to shine when it was finally his turn for a close-up."
Read the rest of the vintage OA piece here.
"Big Big Love" by Will Kimbrough (Courtesy of Daphne Records)
THE PIERCES (Birmingham)
Upon first listen to this track by Birmingham-bred duo The Pierces, there's little for the average Jill or Joe to identity with. "Galliano, Donatella, and Dolce & Gabbana," they sing in their supercilious drawls. "Boring." "Marijuana; cocaine; heroin—boring." "Sexy boy...girl on girl...ménage-à-trois—boring."
But what about the music? In this video—featuring the beautiful sisters Pierce (Catherine and Allison) strutting the streets of their new home of New York like it's their own personal catwalk and lounging in a lascivious living room scene straight out of a Calvin Klein ad—they simultaneously personify and challenge their own proposition.
"Boring" by The Pierces
XBXRX sort of sound like a Southern Bad Brains—if Bad Brains had been a group of white fifteen-year-olds who played the side stage in a traveling circus. Mathematical riffs and earnest breakdowns make the wounded howling of lead singer Vice Cooler all the more urgent, and the speed makes the sound that much more pleasantly demented.
"Center Where Sight" by XBXRX (Courtesy of Polyvinyl Records)