For the past few months, there's been a huge buzz over Alabama Shakes. The hype has come largely on the strength of their live shows and the powerful lead vocals of Brittany Howard. Their debut album, 'Boys & Girls' was released today (April 9) at iTunes and will be available tomorrow everywhere else.

Howard is indeed a force of nature, with a big, soulful growl and a way of phrasing that's reminiscent of Koko Taylor crossed with 'Sticky Fingers'-era Mick Jagger. The other members of the Alabama-based quartet - guitarist Heath Fogg, bassist Zac Cockrell and drummer Steve Johnson - mesh beautifully with Howard's guitar to create a garage-soul sound that's heavy on reverb, rich on dynamics and raw as all get-out.

They could easily be mistaken for some unknown southern band from 1968 whose legacy has been forgotten by all but a few cratediggers. If the greatest challenge for a band with a great live reputation is recapturing that magic within the confines of a studio, then Alabama Shakes passes that test easily, particularly on 'Hold On,' 'Hang Loose' and 'Be Mine,' which sounds like it could be the live showstopper.

But being able to perform live is a different, but equally important, beast than making a record. Onstage a band can get by on charisma, energy and talent. However, in the studio the songs have to take over. And sadly, the songs on 'Boys & Girls' don't measure up to the quality of the sound. There's nothing bad or embarrassing here, just that the songs are missing something, like a great chorus or a lyrical gem, that rises to the level of the music and sends the listener scrambling for the rewind button to immediately hear it again.

That's hardly the worst thing to say about a new band, and nothing they shouldn't be able to overcome with proper seasoning. Still, 'Boys & Girls' is a worthy debut for a promising band, and probably where they should be in their young career if they weren't expected to knock it out of the park in their first at-bat. Hopefully the inevitable backlash won't deprive them of the opportunity to see them reach their potential.

Watch the Video for 'Hold On' by Alabama Shakes