Alabama Shakes were one of the music success stories of 2012, with their debut album Boys & Girls getting a host of rave reviews and their retro combination of blues and soul topped off by Brittany Howard’s insanely powerful voice sending audiences wild and selling one million copies. Now comes the difficult second album, which is often a let-down after a debut’s huge success. Did Alabama Shakes fall victim to this curse or go from strength to strength with Sound & Color?
The answer is that the band have succeeded in making a record that, while staying true to their roots, opens up and includes some new elements to the band’s sound. The title track is a good example of this, beginning with almost a minute of a lone xylophone playing before turning into a blues shuffle topped off with some gorgeous double tracked vocals from Howard and a string section.
“Don’t Wanna Fight” is another highlight, a soul/blues stomper that features great guitar work. “Gimme All Your Love” is great example of a ballad which explodes in noise after creating all kinds of tension. Despite the fact that Alabama Shakes are very much a band, the stand-out element is Howard’s voice, which can go from measured and calm to an all-out roar in a matter of seconds.
The epic “Gemini” is one of the most interesting songs on the album, as it goes from a slow blues into an epic funk jam song straight out of a Funkadelic record, with a long guitar and keyboard duet George Clinton would be proud of. The album ends with “Over My Head,” a lovely gospel-tinged track complete with Latin percussion, flamenco guitar and another heart breaking Howard vocal.
Howard recently commented that when people ask her what kind of band Alabama Shakes are, she responds “I have no clue” and that seems about right, because although they mine blues music the way Jack White has, they contain too many unique elements to be put into one particular genre. This willingness to experiment and not be pigeonholed shows that Alabama Shakes are looking to stand out from the pack, and Sound & Color should only enhance this reputation.