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Even though my Bio says “Musical Hypebeast” I completely missed the Alabama Shakes hype train when it first left the station. It’s terrible to write off a complete genre, but there is something to be said about the state of Rock or songs that have a Grammy nomination for “Best Rock Performance”. Hindsight is 20/20 because their debut album Boys & Girls is a classic that I will be listening to for years to come. While I missed out on the Alabama Shake’s debut album, I was conducting said hype train for their sophomore follow-up Sound & Color. While Boys & Girls was a rowdy southern rock romp, Sound & Color expands on those same ideas and but is a little more introspective without sounding watered down or neutered.
For those also living under a rock, the Alabama Shakes are a southern rock band from, you guessed it, Alabama. The band has traveled a similar path that Tennessee rockers Kings of Leon paved on the album Because of the Times. However instead of being a cheap knockoff, Alabama Shakes bring more soul and blues to the table, which could be blamed on the larger blues presence in Alabama, or because of front woman Brittany Howard. Her vocal range is absolutely understated and is one of the freshest voices we will hear from this year.
Fans of raw southern sounds might be confused from the title intro title track. It’s a colorful piece that as cliché as it sounds really is colorful, featuring mesmerizing chimes and soaring vocals. It’s a great thesis on what the band is trying to accomplish with the rest of the album. Lead single off the album "Don’t Wanna Fight" is an absolute ride from the get go , plucking guitars and an otherworldly scream and piercing guitar work from Heath Fogg. Desperate pleas from Howard are enough to break even the hardest of hearts. Other album single "Gimme All Your Love" is an absolute monster that starts off as a power jazz ballad but builds and builds and then around the 2-minute mark things finally boil over into an unbelievable crescendo. Crunchy guitars punch through the mix while a blinding organ shines light on Howard pleading with us to give her all of our love. It is one of the most memorable musical moments in recent memory and serves as the albums centerpiece. Other memorable moments on the album are everywhere from the garage rock feel of "The Greatest" which sounds like a lost White Stripes track to the sultry almost electronic feeling closer "Over My Head."
Lyrics are one of the albums weak points and are standard blues themes of lost love and being jilted.
Nothing is painfully bad or sticks out, but it just fades to the back and is mostly forgettable. The only really memorable line is featured in "This Feeling:"
"See, I've been having me a real hard time
But it feels so nice to know I'm gonna be alright"
It’s a simple line but when bookended by heavier themes it becomes incredibly poignant.
Also noticeable is the bigger budget and tighter production that went into this record. Too much polish could have ruined a record of this type like Kings of Leon’s Only By Night but here it thrives. Better microphones to dirty up thee vocals, subtle synths that lay nicely on top of a funky bass emphasize the care that went in to make this album a worthy successor. It is refreshing to see how more money and more hands involved don’t always have to compromise a core sound. Many of us have that spring or summer album and Sounds & Color should be a perfect fit for many. The Alabama Shakes have masterfully crafted an album that is surprising considering the predictability of the genre.