I’ve followed Alabama Shakes since their first 2011 EP, paying them real heed when Boys & Girls went Gold after 500,000 sales, hitting number 6 on the charts. Just last month, they released Sound and Colour. The team initially wrote roots tracks out of their basement in high school, then comprised of only lead singer and guitarist Brittany Howard and bassist Zac Cockrell. Soon, they were accompanied by drummer Steve Johnson, before getting some recording time in Clearwave recording Studio Alabama, before bringing on board second guitarist in the form of Heath Fogg.
Boys & Girls, released in 2012, was a major hit. Their first full-length album boasted top tracks Hold On, Hang Loose and Be Mine. It was dripping with indie roots influences, and had a really muted kick-back, garage-band-jam kind of feel. Sound and Colour definitely builds on that, but brings in higher production quality and a greater attention to synths and the finer details, with the exception of the track The Greatest.
The album opens with its namesake song, Sound and Colour, leading in with floating piano synths and a nice tapping beat, which continue to lead most of the way through the track. This almost signals the beacon of a new Alabama Shakes. It's more “poppy”, which I’m not a big fan of, as I feel it was that same inclination which brought about Turn Blue from the Black Keys, but I can appreciate what they’re trying to do. The beat leads through with solid drum bass and a steady lyrical prose, a track you’ll get over in a few days.
Don’t wanna fight dials it back a bit, following a steady beat and heavier tune than Sound and Colour, by way of the lead guitar playing in and out of Brittany’s lyrics, weaving through a melody that holds its tapping beat, taking us back to what Boys and Girls was about. Dunes has the same effect, bringing us closer to what I’m after from of these guys.
Future People, and Shoegaze really flash back to the original strengths of the Alabama Shakes. Tracks you would hear played while road-tripping across the proverbial coast (as cheesy as that sounds), tingling with true American outback feels; a nice constant hum of a base guitar, covered by a twanging lead guitar, and the soulful melodies of Brittany’s unique, highly pitched vocals. Vocals you want to sing along to, but you can't match her tune at all.
Her voice really is the key to much of what these guys produce, guiding you to love tracks like Gimme All Your Love, This Feeling, and Miss You - all songs feeding on stories of love. The emotion fuelled vocals are supported by stunning big ballad guitar and bass sections in Miss You, blasting the message, leaving you helpless to sing along. Gimme All Your Love plays on this too, although weaves in and out of the gentler subtlety that soft vocals and chilled guitar sections bring to This Feeling. The passion is raw: Miss You kicks off with the line “I’m gonna miss you, and your mickey mouse tattoo.” It’s either very personal or very contrived, aching in an almost motivational excitement.
The whole tracklist is a beauty. Xylophones, pianos, and violins are even brought into the mix to whip you through an experience reminiscent of the first taste we had of the quartet, but with much more soul, heart, and passion. It holds greater prose and clearly higher quality in production than what we'd to date heard from the band, off the back of the Gold - Boys & Girls. It teases us with a natural progression of where this band is going to go, but it's only their 2nd album in 4 years. I can't wait for the next one.