Alabama Shakes - Sound & Color
You know when Lois Lane thought that Clark Kent was just Clark Kent, and she was OK with that? He was solid, dependable, an all-American everyday joe. Then it turned out he had another side to him and had a whole bunch of different, cool things he could do: lasers in his eyes, the ability to fly, look good in his underpants. Well, Sound & Colour is the equivalent of Alabama Shakes turning out to be Superman. It’s that good. And that different.
In 2012 the quintet released Boys & Girls to great success (Grammy nominations, stellar sales on both sides of the Atlantic). The old school blues rock was traditional and straight forward, and brought comparison to the likes of Janis Joplin and other obvious 60s touch points. Building their reputation by being resolutely retro rubbed against the grain of how new bands are supposed to be. Led by the throaty rasp of Brittany Howard’s luscious vocals, the band strolled through 2012 and 2013 with that rear-view swagger. Over the last twelve months though, they’ve been out of sight - but not inactive. From the opening note of ‘Sound & Color’ you know this is not the Alabama Shakes you know and love. What it is is far more subtle, but also the sound of a band knocking it out of the park.
The bull-in-a-china-shop approach of Boys & Girls is gone. Howard reigns in her voice with all the control of a true master: ‘Don’t Wanna Fight’ is funky and impassioned but disciplined; on ‘The Feeling’ she’s falsetto, caressing the song alongside a gentle guitar and soft slapping of drums. And where their debut found at strength in its total commitment to one style, Sound & Color has strength in its diversity: 70s funk on ‘Guess Who’; slacker surf-rock on ‘Shoegaze’; ‘The Greatest''s80s fuzzy noise-pop. It’s a veritable selection box of styles and hues (there’s even an echo of James Blake on ‘Gemini’). Though this may seem like a total departure - and it is - there are reminders of the old band - classic blues riffs and licks on ‘Future People’ and ‘Miss You’ is pure 2012 Alabama Shakes. Howard’s voice holds these diverse styles together on record; it’s a feat for sure yet she’s ably backed by the rest of the band who give the songs real depth.
The Athens, Alabama quintet have gone from being Boys & Girls to delivering big on Sound & Color. They've stepped from the roof of a skyscraper and learned they could fly.