Listen: Alabama Shakes’ ‘Sound & Color’
By Sam Fleming
Sound and Color opens with the lyrics, “A new world hangs outside the window, beautiful and strange.” This lyric describes how this album differs from anything Alabama Shakes has released before. In their previous albums, Alabama Shakes have always had the potential to separate themselves from every other Southern rock band; they have always had the potential to create beautiful and strange music and with Sound and Color they finally do it. Alabama Shakes is a rock band formed in Athens, Alabama, led by singer and guitarist Brittany Howard. Howard’s strong, deep voice gives their southern rock an element of soul. Alabama Shakes released their last album, Boys and Girls, to huge critical acclaim. They became immediately prevalent not only in the southern rock world, but also the mainstream. They had found the crossover appeal that many other southern rock bands cannot hold on to. Although Boys and Girls was a solid album, there was nothing that separated it musically from any other good southern rock record. Most of the songs on it had a very similar template, with few songs being particularly innovative. With their newest album, Sound and Color, Alabama Shakes take a completely different approach than on their last. Boys and Girls at times felt flat, whereas Sound and Color feels well rounded, bolder and fuller. The album’s title and first track opens with a vibraphone chord followed by a simple drum rhythm until Howard’s powerful vocals break through. The harmonies on this track, along with the violin melodies in the background, establish the feel of an album that proves to be an intense yet joyful experience. On songs like “Gimme All Your Love” Howard alternates between barely whispering over a drum rhythm and a few guitar chords, and belting the phrase “give me all you love” over crushing keyboards, and booming drums. Howard really takes advantage of the power in her voice and combines it with the sparse yet powerful instrumentation of her band to create an intense feel to the album, that manages to carry through even in its softest moments. This album is best when Howard fully takes advantage of her vocal abilities like on the songs “Sound and Color” and “Don’t wanna Fight”. The instrumentation behind Howard definitely takes the spotlight on many songs including “Future People” and “Miss You”. The band uses a mix of melodic percussion instruments along with strong clean guitar and bass rhythms to make the album feel open and personal. This album comes together beautifully, with Howard’s vocals mixing perfectly with the instrumentation. The occasional instrumental interludes only add to the silky texture of the album. While Alabama Shakes stay true to their roots with Sound and Color, they also explore their music’s full potential. This album shows a different side of Alabama Shakes and demonstrates their ability and motivation to evolve their sound. With Sound and Color, Alabama Shakes show their extraordinary power, and put out their best effort yet.
Photo: Alabama Shakes/Facebook