By Pat Gunther
Alabama Shakes, a favorite of the blues-rock fans occupying the greater Southeast US, have released their latest LP Sound & Color via ATO Records. A much sexier follow up to 2012’s Boys & Girls, Brittany Howard and co.’s latest LP is far more progressive than the country-blues homages paid on Boys, and their maturation as an artistic collective shines through from the very beginning.
Tinged with electronic and R&B influences, the title track opens with airy and hollow keys that perfectly set the tone for Howard’s beautiful falsetto that’ll surely grace the speakers of many summer cookouts this year. Her amalgamation of influences, then, speak volumes about the Shakes’ progression as a group, going from a talented but struggling “cover band” in Athens, Ala. to one of the most gifted and interesting rock groups we have around today.
The record progresses through various influences, making it far more interesting and reaching than Boys & Girls, even employing influences from groups like The XX and instrumentation from The Black Keys and fellow ATO-signee Ben Booker. Howard’s booming voice shines through on the majority of the record, particularly tracks like “Future People” and the tender “Miss You.” With all of their ‘60s rock tracks, the Shakes are just as adept at evoking neo-soul tracks that sound like they’re straight off of Prince’s newest LP.
It’s this diversity, then, that make Alabama Shakes such a promising act for the Southern aesthetic that has always held a place in the pantheon of musical destinations. Coupled with infectious instrumentation from guitarist Heath Fogg, bassist Zac Crockell, the über talented keyboardist Ben Tanner and drummer Steve Johnson, the Shakes’ sound has evolved well beyond the group that seemingly bored the Obama girls to death in a White House performance last year.
Over gritty instrumentals, Howard is able to show her growth as a songwriter on Sounds & Color better than ever before. Tracks like “Gemini” and “This Feeling” serve as a perfect showcase for Howard’s innate ability to tell a story, which she appears to be chock full of. More importantly though, the group’s ability to riff off of one another and create a cohesive, and appealing track is more apparent than ever, helping illustrate why their debut LP sold just over 700,000 copies worldwide.
With the Shakes getting down and dirty on their sophomore album; it’s becoming increasingly clear that they’re certainly here to stay. In the landscape dominated by EDM and hip-hop, the Shakes are a prime example of adapting one’s influences to create a project both engrossing and widely appealing, which certainly becomes evident on Sounds & Color. Though the future for Howard and the Shakes is uncertain, you can bet on the fact that their projects are only going to evolve yet retain that soothing, infectious quality present on their first two wonderful releases.