Alabama Shakes: “Sound & Color” Album Review

Written By: Ethan Griggs

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Alabama Shakes are no holes barred, authentic blues band. With amazing instrumentalists and an atomic bomb of a lead singer, they have gained Grammy worthy praise and acclaim for their honest representation of one of America’s oldest art forms; it obviously came as a surprise, then, when they released Sound & Color in April of 2015. While the album is still undeniably Alabama Shakes, there’s a new energy to the music that makes it transcend the blues altogether. There’s more fuzz, weirder song structures and melodies, and all a whole new array of tropical tones and instrumentation.

Like most of the Athens, Alabama quartet’s 2012 debut, Boys & Girls, vocalist Brittney Howard remains at the front and center of the fury on this record. She explained how the band listened to everything and anything while recording this record: “The Superfly soundtrack, Gil Scott-Heron’s music and how minimal it could be, David Axelrod—not so much wanting to sound like them, but all of their attention to small details. With ‘Gemini,’ I thought about how the Temptations used to write pop songs, but then got really far out on ‘Cloud Nine’ or ‘Psychedelic Shack.’ I imagined myself in the situation of the African-American groups in the ‘70s, when synthesizers had just come out and they were making all of this moody stuff.” One could argue that all of these sounds pop up on Sound & Color to one degree or another.

The titled track is one of the best on the record, and introduces a whole new band to the listener with some exotic xylophone and a throbbing drum rhythm, before Howard and her inimitable growl tears through the surface. “Don’t Wanna Fight” brings a little more familiarity to the table, sounding like Unknown Mortal Orchestra was around back in the day to record with Aretha Franklin and Nina Simone. “Gimme All Your Love” is another standout track, played in waltz time and with a fierce croon from Howard. “So tell me what you wanna do/You say the weather doesn’t sit with you.Why don’t you talk to me for just a little while?/I can only try to make it right”, pleads Howard before the band slides into a funky breakdown with Bootsy Collins bass played by Zac Cockrell… and this is all before the album hits its second half.

This is clearly the band’s most meditative work to date, as Howard tries to find balance between her hectic schedule and her relationships. I’m gonna miss you/Just wait and see/I cannot chase you/I can’t make you stay”, she laments on the slow and sad ballad, “Miss You”. She’ll have to decide one way or another, because Alabama Shakes and their signature brand of blues and bruises isn’t going to be falling off the face of the Earth, or peoples’ playlists, anytime soon.

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