Hailing from Athens, Alabama, southern rock quintet Alabama Shakes have released Sound & Color, the follow-up record from their 2013 Grammy-nominated work Boys & Girls. Lead by the soulful and mighty vocals of Brittany Howard (she also plays guitar), the band is one well-oiled machine; bassist Zac Cockrell, guitarist Heath Fogg, keyboardist/organist Ben Tanner, and drummer Steve Johnson fuse together as the rock-solid pedestal from which Howard projects her grace and talent. Seductively teasing between smooth, heavy blues riffs, and powerful, hard hitting southern guitar rock, Sound & Color is exciting and unpredictable, yet hypnotic and alluring with a firm grasp. Blues, soul, rock, and heavy southern influences slam together to make one of the best rock albums of 2015.
Howard scatters her ‘60s-inspired vocal style throughout, stealing the show for a number of tracks, while letting the rest of the band shine brighter on others. Instantly drawing the listener in, the title track “Sound & Color” sends the listener in a trance with a minimalist xylophone tone, matched with Howard’s soft and rich voice.
Now that Alabama Shakes have your attention, they sweep into a groovy guitar riff – but not without a tasteful, piercing howl from Howard. As mentioned before, the Athens native has a number of impressive performances on the record: “Don’t Want to Fight” is one of them, swirling through crisp, sharp howls and cool, precise serenading. Similarly, “Give Me All Your Love” is an explosive performance from Howard; her ability to hit off-the radar notes with such simultaneous aggression and grace is wonderful to experience. If you haven’t fallen in love with Brittany Howard yet, “Missing You” teases with a playful back-and-forth of calm and stormy. She does have a softer side of course; “Dunes”, “The Feeling” and ‘60s-R&B track “Guess Who” allow the listener to sit back and relax.
A few surprises graze the album, “The Greatest” being the best example, reaching back into the ‘70s rock songbook for a breezy, summer-style track with an extra dose of pep. “Shoegaze” boasts a similar carefree, breezy style, sprinkling in a stronger southern influence as Tanner allows his organ to swell in the background.
“Future People” highlights the band’s tightknit style, with each instrument sharing an important role in building intensity and excitement for a raw-edged chorus. Approaching the end of the track list, “Gemini” has the band cycling through lead performances.
Acting as the other bookend, “Over My Head” ends Sound & Color in similar style as the opening title track: minimal instrumentation paves the way for Howard’s vocals.
Alabama Shakes never fail to impress, their sophomore album Sound & Color is an exceptional addition to their discography, combining the best elements of R&B, soul, blues and southern rock.