Alabama Shakes "Sound and Color"

Alabama Shakes gel as a band and expand their musical palate on their sophomore release.

When I discover a promising new band, one that catches fire and excites the imagination with its debut release, I keep my fingers crossed for the sophomore release, hoping it lives up to expectations. In regards to Alabama Shakes there was never a doubt about the talent of lead singer Britney Howard.  Her vocals incorporate wall-shaking wails to vulnerable, heartbreaking murmurs. She is nothing short of extraordinary. Her band churned out swampy grooves, funky rhythms, and a healthy dose of southern rock with a splash of psychedelia. Could the band’s follow-up match or surpass the raw passion of Boys and Girls?

Sound and Color offers songs with more complexity, wider ranges of influences, more production element, and expanded arrangements, all done without sacrificing the fresh free-for-all emotion of its debut. The album’s first single “Don’t Wanna Fight” picks up where the band left off but it’s only the jump of point for an album that defies categorization. From that raucous opening the band jumps to the subtle, string enhanced ballad “Dunes.”  It’s not hard to imagine Lou Reed while listening to the freak-jam of “The Greatest.” Howard’s restraint on the ballad “This Feeling” allows her to play with phrasing in a manner only hinted at on the debut. “Miss You” resurrects the atmosphere of Muscle Shoals with its R&B slinkiness. The band’s choice of producers is an unlikely one. Blake Mills is best known as a singer songwriter. His production credentials fall toward the acoustic folk area including Sara Watkins. Mills proves up to the task of guiding the Shakes through a myriad of genres and tempos.

When Boys and Girls was released Alabama Shakes was still in it’s formative, molten shape. As the band matures the individual strengths become more obvious: Zac Cockrell’ reverberating bass, Steve Johnson’s back-bone drumming, Josh Fogg’s anchoring guitar work catalyst drumming. But the catalyst for all this music is Ms. Howard – from her propulsive guitar chords, to that one-of-kind voice. In her voice you can hear strains of Prince and David Bowie. It’s been a long time since a performer appeared with this level of power, intensity, and bravado. She’s fearless in her honesty and what she offers in every song.  There is no sense of holding back. In a recent interview the singer said “It took a lot of patience to make this record, and to communicate so well with each other. I know now we’re the kind of band that can do that. I feel like I’m capable of anything.” Believe her.



Rosemary Welsch (Afternoon Mix)