Alabama Shakes releases “Sound & Color”
Jimmy Kemper | Wednesday, April 22, 2015
If you only listen to one album this month, make sure it’s Alabama Shakes’ “Sound & Color.” Don’t even finish this review, just go find the album and give it the attention it deserves.
With “Sound & Color,” Alabama Shakes has done something incredible. They have redefined the vision for their sound, shattered all expectations and brought many new colors to the band’s palette.
As with their 2012 debut album “Boys & Girls,” lead singer Brittany Howard’s soulful vocals are powerful, gritty and downright wonderful. Who could possibly forget the first time they played “Boys & Girls” and heard Howard croon on “Hold On?” “Sound & Color” displays an expansion of Howard’s vocal prowess that she didn’t share on “Boys & Girls,” whether she’s screaming like a banshee, sinking into the low notes or showing off her falsettos.
As great as “Boys & Girls” was, the instrumentals lagged far behind Howard’s vocals. The band had clearly mastered and really dug into their Southern rock sound, but they were unwilling to give that sound and their skill the opportunity to explore new things. But in “Sound & Color,” the instrumentals act as more than just a background to support Howard’s talent; they complement her style and drive the music forward in new directions. It’s absolutely amazing what the past few years on the road have done for the band. Now, the Shakes tinker with a wide variety of sounds, instruments and moods throughout the album.
Sometimes, Alabama Shakes even explores multiple tempos and moods within the same track. “Gimme All Your Love” is a prime example of this, and it’s one of my favorite tracks on the record. It’s a love ballad with airy, soulful guitar riffs interposed with striking chords and Howard’s haunting screeches on the chorus that send shivers down the spine.
“The Greatest” is another great track that shows the value of what a little wanderlust can do for the Shakes. The song starts off with a muted, distorted and grungy sounding guitar that could have come straight out of an early Foo Fighters album. Right in the middle of the song, we’re thrown forward into the future with some electric, whistling synth noises. By the end of the track, “The Greatest” is a full out jam with banging drums, pounding basslines and rocking screams from Howard. “The Greatest” takes listeners on a journey across genres and decades within the span of a few minutes that is simply unprecedented for the Shakes.
Experimentation is obviously a risky move and can potentially lead to a disjointed album. “Sound & Color” avoids this setback because every single track is anchored by Howard’s emotional powerhouse of a voice and by the band’s deep love of Southern rock. This affection gushes throughout the album and settles into the little details, whether it be a quiet, bluesy guitar riff hidden in the very back of the song or a thumping bassline intertwining with Howard’s vocals in the very front.
Altogether, this focus on little details creates a much more intimate experience than the LoFi “Boys & Girls” and the need to give this album multiple playbacks in order to absorb everything that the Shakes have accomplished. And they have accomplished quite a lot with “Sound & Color,” embracing and infusing several decades worth of new sounds to create a masterpiece of a Southern rock album that shines with the brightest colors.
“Sound & Color”
If you like: Father John Misty, The Black Keys, Dr. Dog
Label: ATO Records
Recommended Tracks: “Gimme All Your Love,” “The Greatest,” “Don’t Wanna Fight”