Alabama Shakes’ first tour proved they have the charisma of some of the liveliest bands in music today. But their first album, Boys & Girls, failed to capture that performance style, leaving much to be desired. Their second record, Sound & Color, released Tuesday, incorporates a variety of instrumentation and draws on a wide array of influences to create an album that not only defines the band’s sound but also captures the spontaneity and color of their live performances.
Lead singer and guitarist Brittney Howard’s voice is the highlight of almost every song on Sound & Color. Her vocals bring enormous tonal variety, establishing an initially hazy dream state on “Sound & Color” and energizing the angry and demanding frenzy of “Gimme All Your Love.” Howard’s soothing register on “Future People” accentuates the confident and boisterous “Don’t Wanna Fight.”
In an instant, Howard can go from absolutely irate to gently compassionate and back again. Her emotions consume her when she sings of heartbreak; she focuses solely on her pain and nothing else. Combined with Howard’s heavy guitar chords and Zac Cockrell’s jazzy bass work, Howard’s voice helps every song on this record leave a lasting impression.
Watch Alabama Shakes perform "Gimme All Your Love" here:
Steve Johnson, the band’s drummer, brings his punk and metal influence to each song. He helps Alabama Shakes create explosive moments in songs such as “Miss You,” in which Johnson controls the pace with his dynamic drumming. Johnson contributes to the band’s overall effort to keep the listeners on the edge of their seats by eliminating predictability in his drumming.
With a start-and-stop style throughout the record, this album isn’t a casual listen. Experiencing all of the ups and downs of the album requires paying attention to details. Sound & Color takes a toll on the listener, but the end result is worth the effort.
At points, Howard’s lyrical content feels generic. Themes of personal turmoil, regret and helplessness dominate Sound & Color, but Howard neglects to add personal detail to these struggles. Although a more personal account of Howard’s stories would have given the lyrics depth, the lack of specificity does allow listeners to use their imagination and project their own experiences onto the music.
Not to say every song is bleak and hopeless; Sound & Color offers more empowering tracks of equal magnitude. “Shoegaze” invigorates listeners to the extent that songs such as “This Feeling” force contemplation.
Sound & Color makes the listener feel closer to the Alabama Shakes with every note. This record signifies the group’s maturation as a band. This album makes it clear that the Shakes’ efforts to translate their live performance style into digital recordings paid off.
- Album: Sound & Color
- Artist: Alabama Shakes
- Tracks: 12
- Rating: 9/10