Album Review: Alabama Shakes, ‘Sound & Color’

Written by Chris Osifchin

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I am determined to learn every dance move Brittany Howard has in her repertoire after listening to Sound & Color. I want to learn the Matador, the Boot-Knock, the Hip Dip, the One-Legged Foxtrot, the Pre-Apocalyptic and Post-Apocalyptic Struts, and yes, the Full Body Seizure, because this summer there will not be another album more jubilant, exhilarating, genre-blending, or more fun than this. Nor will there be a better band to check out at headlining stages on the festival circuit. Stick a fork in ‘em.

In their follow up to 2012’s Boys & Girls, The Alabama Shakes have crafted an album that continually pushes the envelope, yet maintains their roots rock backbone. From the dreamy opening notes of title track “Sound & Color,” to the sprawling funk of “Future People,” to the psychedelic pill of “Gemini,” Howard and company have explored their musical tastes and mined their influences to create an album that is at once familiar, yet unrecognizable.

Photo Credit: Bradley Gutierrez
Photo Credit: Bradley Gutierrez

When “Don’t Wanna Fight” was released as the album’s first single, with it’s jagged, sharp guitar hook and a staccato style similar to the band’s biggest hit “Hold On,” the cat was out of the bag. This song encompasses everything the album is. Familiar, but just out of reach. Sound & Color is not just a sonic step forward for the Alabama Shakes, though. Howard revealed in a recent interview with The Guardian that she’s started paying more attention to the world at-large; “Don’t Wanna Fight” is about “people killing each other because of ridiculous assumptions.”

Coupled with more mature and directed lyrics, the Shakes genre-defiance works in their favor all over the album. Nowhere is this more apparent than on “The Greatest.” Combining elements of punk, blues, garage rock, soul, even slanting slightly Spanish, even Motown, the song rambles through almost four minutes, playing with dynamics and misdirections, then bringing it to a scorching crescendo. It’s an insanely catchy track that I imagine will be a staple of their set and particularly fun at festivals where you’ll catch me, and others I’m sure, perfecting my Alabama Shakes dance routine.

Despite the new direction the album takes, Howard proves the band hasn’t lost its old soul and charm on “Miss You.” A classic blues progression that would make any soul singer swoon combined with Howard’s stirring, tender plea throughout the verse makes for a beautiful modern telling of this tale. Always one to have fun with the decibel levels, the gang blows the roof off with Howard’s booming proclamation, “I’m yours, I’m yours, I’m yours, Yes, sir!” If you had any doubts about this band, now would be the time to toss them.

The Alabama Shakes may have written the blue print for avoiding the sophomore slump with Sound & Color. Step over boundaries, but not too far. Explore your influences. Let them color your sound, but not create it. And don’t be too coy about it. Just do you.

There’s a mighty commotion comin’ out of Alabama, and it ain’t your daddy’s rock ‘n’ roll.

Catch Alabama Shakes the weekend of June 5th and 6th on the Seaside Heights beach this summer at the Gentlemen of the Road Stopover Festival, or June 7th at Hunter Mountain in New York for Mountain Jam.

Rating: 10/10

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Founded in September 2009, The Pop Break is a digital pop culture magazine that covers film, music, television, video games, books and comics books and professional wrestling.