For Alabama Shakes, a small group of unlikely musical heroes, the rise to fame was meteoric. With their beginnings planted in back rooms of East Limestone High School in Athens, Alabama, within a little over a year of forming, the band had changed their name from “The Shakes” to “Alabama Shakes,” and released a 4-track self-titled EP, which garnered critical and popular attention alike. Their debut album, Boys & Girls followed soon after, in April of 2012. Boys & Girls was lightning in a bottle, integrating their Southern rock roots with killer hooks, and poppy sensibilities. Their highly anticipated sophomore album dropped this week.
If fans were worried about the band resting on laurels on their second time around, they need not be. Sound & Color is a noticeably more challenging collection of tunes. What made B&G so great was its immediacy. The second you put in the headphones, it was as if the songs coming through had been on your “most listened to” for years. Sound & Color finds the band leaving one foot in their Southern rock roots, and planting the other in soul and blues. While the lead singles, “Gimme All Your Love,” “Don’t Wanna Fight,” and “Future People,” highlighted the electric Brittany Howard’s ability to send hooks screaming into your long term memory, the majority of the tracks require a little more patience, and as a result, might leave some listeners scratching their heads.
To begin with, Sound & Color is more chilled than Boys & Girls ever had the capacity to be. The title track, which kicks off the album, greets the listener with stunning vibes. They’re the best opening sequence to your favorite movie, the curtain lifting as the show begins. Lead singer/songwriter Brittany Howard scorches her name writ large across the album, especially in tracks like “Dunes,” whose melodies showcase an incredible songwriter in the making. Bright and sad, “Dunes” is a highlight, as is “The Greatest,” an honest to goodness garage-punk tune. Punchy and enjoyable as ever, yet entirely outside of their previous sound.
More enjoyable than any individual track on the album, is what the album represents; a promise to to not stop pushing forward. Sound & Color is a brave step for Howard and company, who could have just as easily produced Boys & Girls part 2, probably to similar fanfare. Alabama Shakes will be stopping by Red Rocks in August. If you enjoyed this album, grab your tickets now. They won’t last long.