Alabama Shakes - Sound & Color - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Alabama Shakes - Sound & Color

by James Weiskittel Rating:7.5 Release Date:2015-04-21

When Alabama Shakes first started making the late-night rounds a few years back (Conan, Kimmel, and finally SNL), the powerhouse retro-rock troupe seemed to have come out of nowhere. The band was an almost-too-perfect blend of old-school rock and soul influences. At the center of their monolithic stomp was singer/guitarist Brittany Howard, whose impassioned vocals and in-the-pocket playing immediately helped separate her from the otherwise obvious Janis, Aretha and Carole (King) comparisons.

So here we are three years later, and Alabama Shakes are back with Sound & Color, an eclectic effort that should help dispel any notions that their initial critical lauding was perhaps a bit premature. While Sound & Color still retains the soulful approach of Alabama Shake’s debut, Boy's & Girls, it also succeeds in adding a bit more sonic diversity this time around.

The hymn-esque title track that serves as the album’s intro perfectly sets the stage for the Sound & Color's first two hits, the funky ‘Don’t Wanna Fight’ and the otherworldly ‘Future People’. The album’s centerpiece, the slow-burning blues gem ‘Gimme All Your Love’, features Brittany Howard’s best vocal of the record. The song builds to an impressive climax while Howard's voice is nearly overwhelmed by her surging emotion.

While the second half of the record does begin to lose a little steam (as it's comprised of mostly slower numbers), the album closes strongly with the epic ‘Gemini’, and the gospel-tinged ‘Over My Head’. Both songs help highlight the album’s nuanced production that cleverly mixes a modern touch with the band’s previous lo-fi approach.

If Boys & Girls had one fatal flaw, it would probably be that it too easily reminds the listener of the band’s influences. After all, the band had only been together for a few months when they recorded their debut, and there simply wasn't much intrinsic depth beyond the novelty that seemed to blanket the entire album. 

This time around though, Sound & Color plays to the group’s strengths by easing off the ’throw-back 60s-vibe’ and bringing Brittany Howard’s vocals and lovelorn lyrics to the front and center. Every band hopes that their new album will not only satisfy their current fans, but also garner new ones, and Sound & Color succeeds on both fronts.  

If the current chart success of ‘Don’t Wanna Fight’ means anything at all, it clearly shows that while the novelty may have already worn off some, Alabama Shakes have no intention of simply remaining a nostalgia act. Sound & Color is a funk, rock, and soul mash-up, but much more importantly, it’s fresh.

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