Alabama Shakes, Sound & Color

Rockers Alabama Shakes have made quite a name for themselves over the past few years, and after 2012’s impressive Boys and Girls, they took to the road to support the record. Three Grammy nominations and countless shows later, it’s been three solid years and we’ve finally got a new album from the four-some to digest.

While Boys and Girls was much more raw and raucous, Sound and Colorfocuses on some of the biggest strengths of the band and elevates them. The airy opening title track doesn’t sound like the band we fell in love with years ago, but it’s a change that listeners can easily get used to. The mega-single “Don’t Wanna Fight” is up next and showcases the immense talent residing inside lead singer Brittany Howard. Her screams and melodies soar over the track, and she even throws a surprise squeal in at the opening of the cut. The album as a whole is more spacious than Boys and Girls, and the production value has only risen higher since 2012’s record. Crunchy guitars flood “Future People”, another single that rides fully upon Howard’s melodies and gang vocals from the rest of the band.

Smooth jazz is something the band toyed with through different parts of Boys and Girls, and tracks like that tend to abound on this album, but combined with the rock we’ve come to expect. “Gimme All Your Love” is the pinnacle of this example, with Howard’s soft, quick vocals doing the work on the verses before the guitars and organ come in for the choruses and her scream fills the eardrum. We haven’t heard an Alabama Shakes track this passionate before from them, and it works in their favor. And it appears the band just went into jam mode for the bridge, which will make fans of their live show even happier. The band is known for their improvisation live, and it seems like many pieces of this album were recorded live off the floor. Perfect for a band like this.

“This Feeling” steps into a more acoustic, back porch feel, and again allows Howard to show off her high pitch, with an ambience added for some extra flavor. More synth rock mixed with a surprising string section shows up on “Guess Who”, while the raw suddenly returns on “The Greatest” with a near-punk track. It comes out of nowhere, but maybe that’s the goal of Alabama Shakes now: to surprise. A groovy cut like “Shoegaze” imagines what might be coming in the future for the band, and Howard channels her inner 50s and 60s style vocals once again in “Miss You”. Elsewhere, the sprawling “Gemini” borders on the aforementioned shoegaze style, suggesting the band wants to bring that sound to the forefront of the mainstream. Overall, Sound and Color is exactly what we could have asked for from Alabama Shakes. More produced, more thoughtful, more thorough, and more groove. Just, more. The album is a solid follow-up, and adds another dimension to this already red-hot band.

Justin Mabee