Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Album Review: Alabama Shakes- Sound & Color

Alabama Shakes
Sound & Color
**** out of *****
The Alabama Shakes first release Boys & Girls was a solid piece of southern soul and easy hip shaking rock and roll that seemed to be embraced by pretty much everyone who heard it. The title aptly described the relationships that were sung expertly about by Brittany Howard, the stand out player from the bands debut, and again the title tells the tale as Sound & Color lets the band indulge in various sonic experiments. The end result is a transitional album rather than a note for note follow up most would expect and for that fans of the band should be thankful even if it takes a few spins to settle into.    

The freakiness flies from the opening title track with unique pianos, sketchy sounds and a CeeLo Green vibe. That dreamy tranquility and musical expressiveness allows the band to switch styles, no longer are they easily pigeonholed as southern roots rock and soul.

The wah wah guitar of "Don't Wanna Fight" gets funky Prince-like groove working and that late night vibe melts into most of the tracks. "Future People" continues it and disk closer "Over My Head" mixes it in expertly like a 3am cocktail. The off kilter bass and drum combo that dominates "Gemini" shows the band reaching out and tacking on a burning/buzzing guitar outro, which while over indulgent, proves that the standard template is out the window for the group this go around.  
Howard is still the focal point as her vocals are truly special, however she is game for trying out different things as well, going more falsetto, pinching off highs or yelping oddly, her willingness to try something new is refreshing. She can still dominate a simple blues inflected number with "This Feeling" and kicks off the bands first punkish outing with "The Greatest", even more punk may have made it even tighter.

For fans not ready to move on from Boys & Girls, "Miss You" is where you should start, a slow torch song that fits the bands first efforts. The best combination and perhaps a sweet-spot mix of style and substance for future tracks can be found on the most complete offering, "Gimme All Your Love". A nuanced mix of building, fluttering, and dramatic pauses/swells that transforms into a stone cold groove to close, an A+ effort.    

Not everything hits that high mark, "Dunes" feels still in the demo phase of production, and for an album with lots of variety things seem to be bogged down; a track like "Shoegaze" doesn't add much. Positively though the group sounds cohesive, confidently finding their way through their studio experiments as their sound, tastes and styles evolve, grow and find their footing only to brilliantly slip off again into the unknown.  
Great to see bands evolve, we liked the first album (would have been 8 stars on current rating system) and Sound & Color, proves the band won't sit still.

Support the band here, buy the album here, peeps some video below:

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