This band came from nowhere. One minute they were virtually unknowns, the next, global stars. Such was the speed of their rise to fame from first record, Boys & Girls, that they barely had time to drink in exactly what they had accomplished; this was until the album had gone catastrophic and touring came to an end. What can go wrong with this type of fame, is the band are left not knowing what to do next, or how to even start a second album. With concentration and touring so heavy on the first record – and with the public now gasping for the next – the band have to think of something quickly – it’s sink or swim time. With this in mind, Alabama Shakes second album Sound & Color is surprisingly full of new ideas, but still deep in its own roots.
Album-titled track Sound & Color is a pleasant start; it leads you in with gentle bell and bass tones before you get the first treat of Brittany’s beautiful and tantalizing vocals. She has all the grace and confidence a new album should muster after the huge success of the first. By the end, a good mix of harmonies aid a troupe of violins, making it a little experimental and a taste of the bravery to come.
Gimmie All Your Love sees us in ballad territory, again trying new things, and again making it work. Slow but strong, its flashes of loudness hit you then disappear before you know it; it’s kind of like a beast awakening from its slumber, spitting fire at you then falling back to sleep again. Don’t Wanna Fight sees a funk atmosphere set against lyrics of a lovers tiff, whereas Miss You’s slow blues licks build up in a ‘The Commitments’ fashion before hitting you with distorted vocals and heavy sounds.
So far so good: a taste of the old, and a taste of the new. With so much experimentation, however, there is bound to be areas that don’t quite work – not that there’s many mind you. The Greatest, with its punk vibe, kind of covers up the vocal work of Brittany – maybe intentionally, maybe not – whereas Guess Who doesn’t appear to fire on all cylinders, maybe trying a bit too hard to be different.
But this minor blip is all but fleeting when you hear the rest of the quality on display. Dunes must get a mention for getting the mix just right, focusing on roots rock, but also adding in a little Northern Soul, a little Led Zep and backing this up with some Pink Floyd-esqe psychadelia. Perfect.
Alabama Shakes have fully proven they have what it takes to keep on going and are not just one-album wonders. They’ve experimented instead of just playing it safe, which should be commended. Brittany and all should be proud of what they have accomplished here and relish in what the future can bring.