The thing about bands that revel in nostalgia, is that they’re normally not very entertaining for very long. They’re always the sort of bands that your parents will love and who’s CD would make a great Christmas present for them but they’ll never quite click with you. The sort of band that write reasonably bland songs but put up this visage of being ‘real’ music because they revel in the sounds of the old.
There’s a large temptation to write off Alabama Shakes off as one of those bands. Their debut album ‘Boy & Girls’ captured the heart of many parents across the board for their sound that was very much indebted to Southern rock and Blues. They did somewhat stand out from the rest of the bands that were just straight up bland with some genuinely thrilling songs and exhilarating vocal performances from their lead singer Brittany Howard who sports some pretty androgynous vocals. It’s a great pleasure then, that on their second album ‘Sound & Color’ they’ve distanced themselves even further from these sorts of bands by actually channelling more influence from other genres that sound retro such as soul.
Alabama Shakes have taken their first proper steps into becoming one of the more genuinely thrilling American rock bands of the last few years. On this album they’ve expanded their sound and dived head first into their influences yet they’ve made sure to leave enough room to fit in some traits that will undoubtedly become their trademark. Howard’s vocals are more ecstatic and crazed than before with her jumping from deadly quiet to a howl frequently. Her voice also sounds golden with their new-found love of soul music. The track ‘Miss You’ sounds like it could have been taken straight from an Otis Redding song at the beginning before it breaks into a stomping, energetic chorus with Howard showing off how far her vocals can go. Her slightly androgynous vocals lend themselves so well to the more sentimental sounds of soul music as well as the energetic fury of their Southern rock roots.
Compositionally and stylistically Alabama Shakes find themselves flip-flopping all over the place while managing to stay coherent throughout with the power of great song-writing. There are a lot of slow burning tracks on this album such as the opening title track which have these gorgeous xylophones playing over some soulful instrumentation. The track ‘Gimme All Your Love’ sees them utilising this slow burning sound they use on a lot of songs and giving Howard the space to really shine with a powerful delivery of some equally powerful lyrics about craving somebody’s love who won’t give it to them. She sounds completely tormented on many of the tracks on here like on the song ‘Gemini’ which has her using vocal manipulations and reverb to sound so depressed over the very low-key instrumentation.
Yet on the flipside there are tracks that see them use the energy they take from their influence of Southern rock to create some incredibly original songs that still have a very strong Soul flavour to them like on the song ‘The Greatest’ which has them using this energetic rolling drumbeat for what feels like an eternity before smoothly rolling into this soulful rhythm for the second chorus. It’s one of the many left hooks that Alabama Shakes throw at you mid-song throughout this album. Their compositions never feel stagnant or like they’re revelling too far in the past. This is an album that relies more on the subtle moments in their instrumentation rather than simply recreating an old sound and going for cheap thrills. Even on tracks like ‘This Feeling’ with just an acoustic guitar, it sometimes feels like the vocals play alongside the strumming better than any drum rhythm would with every note sounding like a weapon in Howard’s arsenal.
This record sets apart Alabama Shakes from other bands doing the same thing in 2015 pretty much based purely on fantastic song-writing and fantastic performances. Proof that in an age where it feels like no one can make entertaining original guitar music any more, it only takes some genuinely interesting songs and your OWN voice to sound like biggest breath of fresh air in a good while.
Best Tracks: Miss You, Don’t Wanna Fight No More, The Greatest, Gimme All Your Love