Alabama Shakes – Sound and Colour review

Alabama Shakes is a four piece southern rock band (rather unsurprisingly) from Alabama. The quartet is led by Brittany Howard who’s powerful, versatile and often eccentric vocals make her one of the most interesting female singers of recent years. The band’s debut album was met with both popular and critical acclaim, their single “Always Alright” even found its way into films like “Silver Linings Playbook”. This album (“Boys & Girls”) was a little too timid for me; especially regarding Howard’s vocals which were clearly not capitalised on enough. That said, Boys & Girls was a better than solid debut album. With that in mind, I went into this album with a noticeable level of optimism.

From the first track the new diverse sound of Alabama Shakes is evident. “Sound and Colour” is a fitting opening to the album, its gentle xylophone mixes in with some luscious strings and of course the softness of Howard’s voice creates a sound that you want to wrap yourself in (I know that sounds kind of strange). This is followed by the emotion charged “Don’t Wanna Fight” which perfectly captures the feeling of exhaustion after a difficult argument with one’s partner. The repetition of the chorus toward the end of the track also gives this sense of repeating the same arguments over and over which adds to this sense of emotional exhaustion. Howard again demonstrates her incredible versatility with her falsetto on the chorus which has been stuck in my head for well over a week now. The short spacious guitar solo around the three minute mark also shows the development of the band who continue that soft and gentle sound from the first track but give it a more desert rocky edge. “Future People” is the most interesting on a lyrical level as Howard pleads for the young of today to see the world “like Future People”. Musically, it has a guitar riff which would be at home on the first album but on the chorus is met with a super charged bass guitar which sounds like their equivalent to a sort of “trap drop”. The vocal work on the verses is interesting to as the backing vocals create 

Without a doubt, “Gimme All Your Love” is my favourite track on the album. It oscillates between mellow lounge music to a heavy passionate chorus. Howard is clearly having fun on the chorus; her screaming vocals are followed first by an epic church organ and secondly by what can only be described as sinister evil laugh. This is probably the biggest difference between the two albums, Howard seemed to be restrained on their debut LP but this time really pushes her vocals to fantastic results. The song then mellows out again before that monstrous chorus comes around again. It concludes with what seems like a kind of improvisation, the band just messing around in the studio and whilst what comes out is a little predictable it is nonetheless pleasing. “This Feeling” sees the band move in a different direction. The “back to basics” and acoustic sound of this track adds to the diversity of the album and whilst for me it seems to lose momentum half way through it is still an interesting track. “The Greatest” to showcases a different side to the band who sound like they’re having so much fun (she even lets out a little laugh at the end) creating what can only be described as a messy “proto punk” rock song similar to the Black Keys’ “Gotta Get Away”. Whilst Howard again shows her versatility by carrying off this 1970s style summer rock song credit must be given to the drummer and guitarist who gives the song a real stomping, pogo dancing rhythm.

Sound & Colour sees Alabama Shake experiment to varying degrees of success. Whilst many of the tracks above are largely successful in this there is a few like “Gemini” and “Dunes” where they fall short. Despite a great deal of change on this LP, seasoned Shakes fans should not be disheartened because the best elements of the first are transferred to this sophomore effort particularly with songs like “Shoegaze” and “Miss You”. In all, Alabama Shakes have created a diverse, interesting and fun album which has a handful of truly great tracks.

Alabama Shakes – Sound and Colour = 8/10

Callum Christie

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