sun 27/09/2020

CD: Alabama Shakes - Sound & Color | reviews, news & interviews

CD: Alabama Shakes - Sound & Color

CD: Alabama Shakes - Sound & Color

Second from Athens, Alabama's finest moves them forward impressively

Sound & Color, British spellcheck nightmare

Alabama Shakes' 2012 debut album, Boys & Girls, was well-liked by both critics and music-lovers. It was appreciated for its tuneful, sassy reimagining of US southern rock, via the persona, songs and voice of front-woman Brittany Howard. The question for album two, then - as always for young bands wishing to blossom both creatively and commercially - is whether they can perfectly balance new ideas and inventiveness with whatever made them likeable in the first place.

Alabama Shakes' 2012 debut album, Boys & Girls, was well-liked by both critics and music-lovers. It was appreciated for its tuneful, sassy reimagining of US southern rock, via the persona, songs and voice of front-woman Brittany Howard. The question for album two, then - as always for young bands wishing to blossom both creatively and commercially - is whether they can perfectly balance new ideas and inventiveness with whatever made them likeable in the first place. In short, they can and do.

Where Boys & Girls unashamedly played with a retro template, staying within certain parameters, Sound & Color sees Alabama Shakes exploring new ground, having fun, and relishing new styles. Recorded in Nashville with Californian session guitarist Blake Mills, who’s worked with Conor Oberst, Lana del Rey, Norah Jones and many more, it runs the gamut from “This Feeling”, a pared back, sweet, strummed affair wherein Howard channels Prince, to the raucous “The Greatest”, which comes hammering at the listener like The Ramones and ends with a looping, dissonant jam redolent of the Velvets attacking “I’m Waiting For The Man”.

Howard has a touch of the chameleon about her, fitting easily into whatever the song needs, whether that be vocal stylings that recall Minnie Ripperton, Mavis Staples or Andre 3000. Yet she retains personality and character that makes these thrumming, rich songs enjoyable. The band support her all the way, happy to riff out like blues-rock monsters, but with a tightness, especially in the rolling rhythm section, that’s akin to mid-Seventies Fleetwood Mac. Especially worthy of instrumental mention is the six-and-a-half minute “Gemini”, which features loud, proud, stoned guitar that brings the Isley Brothers' “Summer Breeze” to mind.

All the above would be irrelevant if the songs didn’t stand up. On three listens, they appear to – although only time can tell if this is an album that will become glued to the stereo. Alabama Shakes have an innate understanding of sweet, easy melodies, an inner Burt Bacharach hidden beneath their southern rootsiness, and their second album romps home on the back of it.

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