Alabama Shakes’ second album offers taste of new horizons

Alabama Shakes second album offers taste of new horizons

Cam Fuller

Calling Alabama Shakes an R&B band would be incorrect, at least according to them. Sure, they don’t follow some of the industry standards, but not calling them an R&B would also be wrong. The band has made a career out of making some of the most groovy alternative rock out there, mixing blues and soul with lead singer Brittany Howard’s hard hitting vocals and songwriting. They’ve created something that allows them to explore all the avenues that rock and R&B have to offer, which makes for not only great music but for great potential to go mainstream.
It’s not like Alabama Shakes are at all new to this, as 2013’s “Boys and Girls” became their breakout. The single “Hold On” began playing everywhere from the indie rock stations to top 20 hits, and even helped them land a spot on Saturday Night Live. With 2015 came the release of new singles, another place on SNL and even more tour stops, making for a great re-entry . Sound and Color is their newest album, where Howard and the band kept to their signature writing style and made an album that rocks with some of the best soul music of the year.
The album opens up to the dreamy “Sound and Color” title track, which might come as a surprise to new fans as it strays from the raw power of the singles; still, just because it lacks the band’s gritty soul guitar leads doesn’t mean it won’t feature power of another kind. Howard’s pure talent as a vocalist and a lyricist comes out to make for a beautiful ballad as she introduces you to her deepest pains. With lines like, “This life ain’t like it used to be, I want to touch another human being,” the hurt that is in Howard’s life is overwhelming, and it makes for such amazing music.
Though the slower style is definitely a show of what’s to come later, the Shakes turn around and punch the listener with “Don’t Wanna Fight,” “Dunes,” “Future People” and “Gimme All Your Love.” Each song has such a good groove while still being punctual with screaming vocals and loud guitar riffs that makes the body not know whether to nod slowly, or shake the head around with force.
This is probably best summed up by Howard’s screech as she begins singing “Don’t Wanna Fight.” The shrill noise moves perfectly into her simple yet fantastic guitar riff, giving the funk a sense of authority its never seen before. It’s this jack of all trades ability that immediately brings comparison to fellow southern band The Black Keys, but one could go even farther and bring up Led Zeppelin, the one band that handles the rock and the blues perfectly.
Nevertheless, Alabama Shakes have created their own unique sound, whether that’s fast or slow. For a good portion of the rest of the album, they take the second route, but that doesn’t hurt the gushing flow of good soul music at all. “This Feeling” brings calming images to the mind, making for a proper 21st century ‘thank you’ to soul hits like “Dock on the Bay” by Otis Redding. The lovely atmosphere being displayed is most definitely broken though, as some experimenting maybe doesn’t come out too perfectly. “The Greatest” begins as an almost forced punk rock song, and not to say that the band has to stay to one writing style, but the song just doesn’t fit the rest of the mood. Its attempts to make soul music an outlet for punk rock are just completely lost.
Thankfully the album ends on a much slower and delicate note, starting with “Shoegaze.” Though adverse in genre name, Alabama Shakes possibly goes back to their roots more on the track as they draw together a simple and well refined southern rock song. The three final tracks on the album turn the speed down even a little more as these ballads lay to rest and capitalize on the beauty in Howard’s voice just one last time. “Over My Head” ends the album on that perfect dreamy soul that you might not have come for but most definitely stayed for. It’s just another way the band can blend new styles of music together with the old, and will hopefully continue to make work for some time to come.
Alabama Shakes have earned the rating of being an incredible band for completing and successfully making a great sophomore album. This is all because the fact that they are still supplying the rock hits we want, but the anchor of soul music keeps us stationed for more and more dazzling songs. Some of the experimentation wasn’t all there, but it’s made up for in the most whimsical way possible.
Alabama Shakes are a force to be awed upon, so here’s to hoping the mainstream won’t break them on their second trip around.
By Cam Fuller
Image used under fair use doctrine.