Alabama Shakes: Sound & Color

Posted April 22, 2015 by in Alternative



3.5/ 5


Genre: , ,
Producer: ,
Genre: Alternative, rock, soul
Producer: Blake Mills, Alabama Shakes
Label: ATO
Format: Digital download, compact disc, vinyl
Time: 47:26
Release Date: 21 April 2015
Spin This: "Gimmie All Your Love," "Sound & Color," "Don't Wanna Fight"


New tricks, lyrical improvment, unpredictability becomes Sound & Color greatest achievement


Some of the songs hardly materialize into solid pieces

Athens, Ala. breakout rock/soul band turns to psychedelic innovation, D’Angelo soul on sophomore LP

by J Matthew Cobb
Full Article

Athens, Ala. breakout rock/soul band turns to psychedelic innovation, D’Angelo soul on sophomore LP

When Alabama Shakes dropped their debut album Boys & Girls in 2012, they probably never estimated that they would rise to the top as one of the hottest bands to watch. With their very small beginnings, the Athens, Alabama band powered by Brittany Howard — a biracial singer with a wail that has been compared to the likes of Janis Joplin and Tina Turner and a type of voice that sounds like a revolutionary throwback — is now starting to rein in their newfound success. Their debut album featured a slew of garage-cooked rock-soul jams that seemed to worked better in smoky music halls; the only thing managing to sneak out from its set list was the album opener, “Hold On.” That song, with its strong gospel ties and Southern-brewed sing-a-long technique, packaged everything one would need to know about Alabama Shakes in three glorious minutes. But the hard work would eventually come. Besides perfecting their road show, the band desperately needed a decent album, something that would raise the bar on their credibility and the slew of Alabama bands that followed in their footsteps. High expectations are definitely resting on their shoulders, considering they earned a Grammy nod for Best New Artist, sung for Obama, stunned audiences at SNL and wowed Coachella all within one year.

Returning to what works, Alabama Shakes reveals Sound & Color, their sophomore effort. Apparently the band is flowing in some kind of rhythmic tapestry for their album titles; they’re taking a pair of nouns and bringing them together with the power of “&.” On their first round, Howard and her backing band of boys seemed to be introducing themselves to the masses: “It took us both and now I got to fix you,” she sung on its title cut. On Sound & Color, Howard is experimenting with a broader range of psychedelic colors. As if the Shakes have been transported into the world of D’Angelo’s Black Messiah, Sound & Color — recorded mostly at Nashville’s Sound Emporium — takes their evolving sound in new directions mostly encompassing more instrumentation and studio explorations. A mysterious blend of strings, haunting chords, a dash of Prince slow jam and blooming vibraphones create the aura of the title track. Inside. the Shakes point out their new mission: “I wanna touch a human being.” Meanwhile, Howard continues to find clever ways to separate her vocals from the competition. On “Sound & Color,” she attacks the song like a D’Angelo/Betty Wright hybrid. Although it feels way too brief, it’s instantly attainable to the ear. “Don’t Wanna Fight,” another accessible entry, plays around with a darker melody fitting for a Black Keys garage session. Its displays of funk rhythms and engaging guitar solos showcase lots of edge and swagger, as if they are miming the artistic flow of The Roots. You can hear more of that psychedelic awesomeness on “Future People” and the D’Angelo-inspired formula on “Gemini.”

Sadly, there’s very few workouts inside that use the type of gall as the album’s first two tracks. Only the bluesy rock ballad of “Gimmie All Your Love” reaches some type of My Morning Jacket-esque mountaintop apex. Howard plays with vixen romance inside a course of old-school ’70’s jamming so intoxicated with Ben Tanner‘s Memphis soul-influenced organ and the sudden hammering of guitar and drums. It’s a powerful performance containing all the key ingredients of a Southern rock smash. So far, it sounds like their magnum opus. The rest feels a bit substandard: The folksy “This Feeling” feels a bit barren in instrumentation; “Guess Who” is overflowing with wuzzy sound effects and Howard’s muffled, unintelligible vocals; “Dunes” lights up the lava lamp but shows very little movement. Many good ideas are dropped unto this petri dish, but have a hard time materializing. Maybe on the live stage will these B-side features get the extra pruning they rightfully deserve. Still, Sound & Color gets a pat on the back for pushing for more of an aggressive sound, lyrical improvement, and for turning up the innovation on the Shakes, and most importantly, Howard’s near-biblical undertones. An improvement over Boys & Girls.


About the Author

J Matthew Cobb

Managing editor of HiFi Magazine


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