Release Date: Apr 21, 2015
Record label: ATO
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, American Trad Rock
Revivalism is hip right now in music; what’s more, it’s insanely profitable. Retro rules the current Billboard Hot 100, where Mark Ronson’s record-collection-pilfering “Uptown Funk” sits alongside Maroon 5’s lite-funk ditty “Sugar”, while Ed Sheeran’s baby-making crooner “Thinking Out Loud” may be just as ripe as “Blurred Lines” was for a legal challenge by Marvin Gaye’s estate. Each of these songs feels a little cheap for how luxuriantly polished it is; “Uptown Funk” could teach a master class in studied calculation, as each bass note and doo-wop vocable feels as squeaky-clean as the stretch limo featured in the song’s music video.
The opening moments of Alabama Shakes' new record are awash in the orange sunrise glow of '70s soul, the delicate pinks and reds of orchestral flares lighting up the sky. It's a fitting beginning for an album called Sound & Color, but it only hints at the wild architecture and groundbreaking concepts behind the southern band's sophomore effort. Gospel-punk-meets-southern-rock-freakout-meets-blues-funk-disco-with-a-tiny-bit-of-free-jazz sounds like the stuff of nightmares, or at the very least ambitious, disjointed failure, but the Shakes make it soar.
After the Alabama Shakes’ nearly perfect nugget of a debut LP, Boys & Girls, all the band shared was that their follow-up was not going to sound like the swampy, Muscle Shoals blues-rock of yore. For three years, the young four-piece took their time to explore and create (while also touring relentlessly), and they now return with an effort that reflects their individual and collective growth. As such, Sound & Color is a challenging record—not just for the band to make, but also for existing fans with only one record to love, to process and understand and accept.
Two years ago, Alabama Shakes performed at the White House as the Obamas sat in the front row, just a few feet away. The Athens, Ala. band were part of a "Memphis Soul" revue celebrating that city’s groundbreaking '60s sounds, which famously featured black and white musicians working together to make lasting hits like "Hold On, I'm Comin'" in the thick of the civil rights era.
The song on which the Shakes’ second album hits its greatest moment is the lovely This Feeling: a truly laidback, soulful, longing and lazy-ass four-and-a-half minutes on which vocalist Brittany Howard under-sings atop a sighing and superbly delivered arrangement. The band provides a set of grooves and workouts that show the relatively wide range of styles on the album as a whole; these run from the neo-Strokes of The Greatest, which says all it needs to by 30 seconds (but continues for another two minutes via a couple of shifting time signatures), through the mid-paced Stones-esque Shoegaze to the classic longing soul-blues of Miss You. Howard’s voice is at its best when doing that kind of Arethra/Irma Thomas-ish stuff, and where the band uses simple dynamics, rather than density, to showcase the song.
Head here to submit your own review of this album. You might think the lead singer of a band that has sold millions of records and toured the world thanks to songs about a constricting small town life wouldn't fancy sticking around said small town too long. But Alabama Shakes' formidable front-woman and raison d'être Brittany Howard still calls Athens, Alabama home in her downtime.
After the wild success of Alabama Shakes’ debut album, it took a lot of courage to veer into the territory they explore in Sound & Color, a deeply layered collage of tempos and textures – and a seemingly hard left-turn from their previous work. Patient listeners will hear evidence of the R&B-tinged retro-rock they crafted on Boys & Girls, but here, it’s just an element of a greater groove – actually, grooves; they pursue myriad versions in these 12 songs. Sometimes the rhythms skitter and stutter; sometimes they throb, or soothe.
Three years ago, Alabama Shakes’ debut, “Boys & Girls,” brought together two things that rarely collide: Critical acclaim and mass popularity, making the band one of the most well-rewarded new acts of the last decade. But for their follow-up album, “Sound & Color,” they threw us a curve. They’ve varied their sonic palette and abstracted the sound, daring us to follow along.
On their 2012 debut Boys & Girls, Alabama Shakes never hid that they were creatures of the New South -- a band with old-fashioned blues, soul, gospel, and country in their blood but raised on modern rock. On their 2015 follow-up, Sound & Color, they free themselves from the vestiges of the past, let loose, and push themselves further in either direction. This could've resulted in a disjointed record pulling itself in two opposing directions, but the mess of Sound & Color is invigorating, likely because the album uses its title as a creed.
For a band with such a prodigious live reputation (their early shows were famous for frontwoman Brittany Howard tearing up incendiary Led Zeppelin covers with her earth-shaking wail), Alabama Shakes offered up a baldly traditionalist blend of country-soul and roots rock on their debut, Boys & Girls, that felt oddly restrained. Fortunately, with their sophomore outing, Sound & Color, the band's songwriting palette has expanded exponentially, and the songs are performed with much greater elasticity. Remarkably, for all its genre-hopping and instrumental experimentation, Sound & Color is still sonically cohesive, the product of a band that no longer aspires to just imitate their influences, but to build on them, to draw from diverse sources to create a familiar yet identifiably unique rock n' soul sound.
Powerhouses don’t come much more energised than Brittany Howard, a bespectacled former postal worker who becomes supercharged when strapped to a guitar and pushed on to a stage. When they emerged out of Athens, Alabama in 2012 with their debut album Boys & Girls, her band, Alabama Shakes, impressed on multiple levels: the fissile material out front, combining down-home mama chops and an outsider’s zeal, and the instant appeal of songs such as Hold On, in which Howard boggles that she made it “to 22 years old”. This band of misfits also had the casual authority of people at home in a slew of genres, although their default mode was a kind of soulful rock with all the grit of garage and the guts of the blues left in.
The clue, of course, is in the name. Alabama Shakes make music that sounds like the Deep South. Or at least what one might imagine the Deep South was like based on, say, a handful of Hollywood films, some trashy American TV shows and a short coach journey in Tennessee (er, cough?). Likewise, ‘Sound & Color’ is a pretty good name for this second album, with its immediate ability to paint such vivid pictures, say a dive bar serving only weak lager (sorry, Americans) and whiskey spelt with an ‘e’ to a crowd who’ve known each other for generations, of which at least one member looks like Willie Nelson.
If there were a prize for biggest development between albums, then Alabama Shakes would surely be 2015’s most triumphant band. This is not to say that their debut Boys & Girls wasn’t a strong debut, just that in terms of sound and tempo it risked being a little too tightly focused, perhaps even one dimensional in its southern rock and soul roots. True to its title, Sound & Color finds a much wider range of textures and contexts for Brittany Howard’s expressive belter of a voice, with impressive variations in pace, delivery and style.
One of the biggest hurdles facing Alabama Shakes on ‘Sound & Color’ is that you’ll never be able to hear Brittany Howard’s voice for the first time again. The novelty of that viscous, weather-beaten drawl coming from such an unlikely source – a 22-year-old former truck driver and postal worker who’d never left her home state of Alabama – was an integral part of the band’s appeal, and the fact that Howard managed to do something with it other than becoming an X Factor sideshow-of-the-week made their success that much easier to root for. The question now is whether it will still sound as impressive the next time you hear it.
The Alabama Shakes — from the name to the members to the music they make — are a band deeply rooted in the American South, but their 2012 breakthrough debut Boys and Girls vaulted them out of Athens, Alabama and into the chart-topping stratosphere, earning them Gold Record status, three Grammy nominations, and the chance to tour internationally, both as headliners and as support for other Southern titans like Jack White and Drive-By Truckers. Seemingly overnight, they became one of the biggest rock acts in America and beyond. ? After that surprise success, it would have been hard to fault the 'Shakes for going back to the well that brought them here in the first place.
Now signed to Dave Matthews’ ATO Records alongside the likes of My Morning Jacket and Drive-By Truckers, the four-piece roots rock act Alabama Shakes achieved notoriety almost straight out of high school. Known for their electrifying live performances, a vocalist/guitarist with raspy soul, eclectic percussion, and rabid fan support, the group hails from W.C. Handy territory, where blues and country reign supreme.
Alabama Shakes epitomize what a rock band should be in this era, mostly for what they lack. Confidence oozes out of every note that pours from singer Brittany Howard’s mouth, but it doesn’t translate to a big-headed ego. And most importantly, they manage to channel a spectrum of musical influences, from Southern soul to glam-rock, without retreading the well-worn paths that others are content to glide on.
You could get your head around Alabama Shakes' Brit/Grammy nominated, million selling debut, Boys & Girls pretty easily- it was that throwback rock & soul album, entirely Seventies, entirely warm, channeling a smidge of Detroit garage rock and a LOT of California sunshine. While the none-more-vintage approach of making an Eagles album fronted by a raw-voiced soul diva could have wound you up the wrong way, that 'soul' element was more than just a genre convention, it felt genuine- this really was music of the soul, it carried a natural authenticity. Plus they had a single everyone thought was Kings of Leon.
Back with their second full-length on legendary British imprint Rough Trade, Alabama Shakes have spent the last three years building even bigger, bolder blues riffs than on their 2012 debut, Boys and Girls. Brittany Howard's incredible vocals still stab at your chest with deadly potency, their southern soul sentiment as powerful as ever. However, there isn't quite the same immediacy to Sound & Color that its predecessor prided itself on.
On their 2012 debut, Boys & Girls, Alabama Shakes coined a hot retro mix of black Southern soul and white rock & roll that connected. It was the kind of instant-vintage album that college kids and their record-buying grandpas could love, and it made the Shakes a rare success story among new guitar bands in the streaming era. Sticking to that formula must have been tempting, but Sound & Color shows that this band aspires to be much more than roots-rock poster children.
There were moments during their 2012 rise to fame that the Alabama Shakes seemed less like a real band than a dream had by a particular kind of Uncut-subscribing music fan. Here was a new band from America’s Deep South who sounded not unlike Creedence Clearwater Revival, had CCR been hanging around Muscle Shoals’ Fame studios in the late 60s. As one rave review of their debut album, Boys and Girls, put it, the Alabama Shakes made “music that sounds as if the last 40 years of popular sounds had never happened”, adding admiringly: “You won’t hear a single hip-hop rhythm, disco beat, tripped-out guitar effect or dubstep bass drop.
Alabama Shakes Sound & Color (ATO) Thunderbitch Alabama Shakes rolled into SXSW 2012 and an attendant ACL TV taping riding a tsunami of Janis Joplin comparisons for singer Brittany Howard, without the benefit of a full-length LP. The Athens, Ga., quartet cut a nostalgia-tinged mix of blues, soul, and swamp rock, and the easy move would've been to continue down that tried and true path. Sophomore triumph Sound & Color aims higher.
On the title track of the Alabama Shakes sophomore album, “Sound & Color,” frontwoman and guitarist Brittany Howard muses, “A new world hangs outside the window / beautiful and strange / It must be I’ve fallen awake,” before declaring “this life ain’t like it was. ” No doubt life has changed dramatically for the former letter carrier and the rest of the dynamic rock group — guitarist Heath Fogg, bassist Zac Cockrell, and drummer Steve Johnson, and touring keyboard players Ben Tanner and Paul Horton — since their critically acclaimed 2012 debut, “Boys & Girls,” carried them around the world. Anyone who has experienced the raw power of the band’s live show and Howard’s gale-force howl learned that the hype was earned, and “Sound & Color” makes clear this success was not a fluke.
Though it may have been beyond their control, the massive success of Alabama Shakes' debut album, Boys & Girls, and groovy first single Hold On nearly dug them into a deep hole. The track was ubiquitous, almost to a fault. A full three years later, Sound & Color avoids the sophomore slump by packing a sense of purpose into its 12 sleek yet gritty soul tracks.
opinion byBRENDAN FRANK For most intents and purposes, the arrival of Alabama Shakes was the arrival of Brittany Howard. On the band’s 2012 debut Boys & Girls, her monstrous voice was a showstopper, a continuous exhibit of versatility and power, her meat-and-potatoes lyrics an emotional tent pole for music with very specific geographic origins. A few Americana/roots wrinkles aside, Alabama Shakes are a blues band, and a singular voice like Howard’s can energize anything, even a genre that has been around longer than any human on Earth.
In 2012, when Alabama Shakes released its debut album, "Boys & Girls," the studio was not the band's friend. Songs that popped in concert sounded relatively constrained on record. The melodies were strong but fell into a retro pocket, evoking soul and roots-rock dynamics from the '60s and '70s. Brittany Howard's towering voice was undeniable, however, and "Boys & Girls" became one of the year's most acclaimed albums because her intensity melted a lot of quibbles about the lack of genuine surprise in the arrangements.
Alabama Shakes’ 2012 debut had a signature hit in “Hold On,” followed by 10 more well-executed songs that kept the vintage rock ’n’ soul party going strong. The band’s follow-up breaks from that formula from the first note, as frontwoman Brittany Howard (guitar and vocals), Zac Cockrell (bass), Steve Johnson (drums), and Heath Fogg (guitar) play through 12 tracks that branch out toward slow-burn R&B, pell-mell garage, trippy guitar excursions, and in-the-pocket funk. Expansive but scattered, Sound & Color is the sound of a band consciously avoiding playing to its known strengths while seeking to establish a whole new slate of powers.
Anytime a band makes a striking debut and takes both the public and the pundits by storm, it’s only natural that the world will be holding its breath for the follow-up. Unfortunately though, the lifetime of writing that went into the debut is, given the pressures of the market place, reduced to mere months when it comes to formulating a follow-up. It’s only natural then to ask, what resources remain.