Alabama Shakes – Sound & Color
Boys & Girls was a blast from the past, a reaffirmation of soul music and a vehicle for the impressive pipes of singer Brittney Howard. It found the neat balance between being a critical darling and achieving a wide-ranging mass appeal, and in doing so it set the band up for that most awkward of situations: the Eagerly Anticipated Follow-Up Album.
Typically, such an album sees the band looking to expand on it’s sonic pallette;”Look at us!” it screams, “we aren’t just about (blistering blues rock, Stax Records soul, Janis Joplin without the crippling addictions)! Check out what we can also do!” Then the band will normally fire in all directions at once, trying a little bit of everything to prove that they have staying power. Sound & Color is that album. Sure, they still have all of the above-mentioned elements – they’ll never escape their roots – but they add shade, gradient, and at one point something that seems to approximate punk rock. There are some downright funky moments – the solid groove underpinning “Don’t Wanna Fight” for one – and some oddly psychedelic moments as well, as on the ever-evolving “Future People”. The drawback to this, of course, is that there’s very little coherency beyond Howard’s artillery-fusillade of a voice. Each song goes off in a different direction and it’s very easy to get distracted mid-way through.
That said, despite the fact that it took me three attempts to get through the album from beginning to end, it’s well worth the effort. The band is tight enough that you could easily be fooled into thinking that they were on album number ten, and Howard’s voice is, as always, a juggernaut of emotional resonance. A fine sophomore effort, if a typical one.