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Boys and Girls

Alabama Shakes

2012

I instantly liked this band when I heard "Hold On" back in 2011 which was one of the best modern day songs I had heard in a very, very long time.  And as an added bonus, this was the first time I had discovered a new band "before everyone else had" in quite a while!  So that was an added bonus.  I figured they would get popular to a degree, but I didn't anticipate just how their popularity would explode in the lead up to this, their official debut full-length album.  Admittedly, their popularity has tainted them a bit in my eyes, but it's hard to deny the deep, soulful vibe the band possesses...Brittany is a great singer, and the band's dense sound compliments her style well...gives the music added weight.  That said, some of these songs are a little too weighty for my tastes, a little too soul-bearing and drab, but it's all definitely affecting and honest.  Alabama Shakes are a very good band, with a real sound, so I guess it's not that surprising they got so popular.  Let's just hope they don't get too accessible and poppy on their forthcoming releases...wishful thinking...

8.4

Sound & Color

Alabama Shakes - Sound & Color album cover.jpg

Alabama Shakes

2015

Music is a sacred thing. Most of the bands I listen to understand that, and as evidenced on Sound and Color, Alabama Shakes are certainly one of them. Given the huge (and well deserved) success of their debut album “Boys and Girls”, a band this popular could have very easily taken the easy route and produced a more mainstream sounding record. But Alabama Shakes chose to expand their sound here, they chose to experiment, to go deeper, and the results are pretty GD spectacular for the most part.

The main appeal of Alabama Shakes was their authenticity, their complete lack of pretension, but perhaps most importantly, their soul and rhythm. On Sound and Color, the band really ups the funk, rhythm, and range of their sound dramatically, and Brittany absolutely pours on the soul here in epic fashion at times. And I’m not just talking about her unique brand of wounded-sounding, somber soul (although there is that), I’m talking about mind-expanding soul, deep, psychedelic soul that sounds like a more infectious version of “There’s a Riot Going On” by Sly and the Family Stone. Sound and Color kind of sounds like a 21st century lovechild of “There’s A Riot Going On” and “Maggot Brain” by Funkadelic, albeit a catchier, less edgy, somewhat more streamlined version of that idea.

The opening title track sets the tone for the album, and it’s really beautiful, lush, and hypnotic. It’s a preface for the somewhat trippy ride that is to come, although you wouldn’t sense that from the following track “Don’t Wanna Fight No More”. This song is simply badass, with its incredibly funky and hard-hitting rhythm. “Dunes” is another standout, and “Future People” encompasses that druggy and beautiful 21st century Sly thing perhaps better than any track. This is what good music in 2015 should sound like.

But those 4 great opening tracks don’t really compare to the behemoth that follows “Gimme All Your Love”. The song starts out slow, but powerfully, with a dramatic alternating loud/quiet dynamic that demands your attention. But the real highlight here (and probably the highlight of the entire album) is the mindblowingly awesome jam session that kicks in on the song’s 2nd half. This incredibly funky, soulful, hard-rocking, psychedelic, mindfuck of a jam really represents the epitome of everything I love about music. It’s simply impossible to sit still to, and when the organ kicks in with the guitar punch, it’s so GD righteous I almost break a sweat listening to it. There’s some holiness in that jam, and it’s a beautiful, beautiful thing. Talk about sacred music…

Another great thing about Sound and Color are the dynamics and variety in the songs, as evidenced by the following track, the spare and reflective “This Feeling”. Brittany’s unique brand of wounded-soul can cast a thick atmosphere over the songs, which somewhat held back Boys and Girls from being a truly great record, but there’s simply more variety and dynamics at work on Sound and Color so that never really becomes a detriment. Case in point is “The Greatest” which finds the band playing essentially a punchy, up-tempo, almost punk-rock feeling song. A heavy, soulful, pretty punk-rock song? I never would have thought Alabama Shakes were capable of cooking up something like that, but that’s really a testament to the musical chops on display throughout Sound and Color.

One of the most affecting songs on the album, at least for me personally, is “Shoegaze” which may not have the pizzazz of some of the other tracks, but its sincerity and earnesty is really beautifully done. The feeling and vibe of this song really comforts me, for lack of a better term. The tone of the song possesses a subtle depth to it, and it really strikes a chord with me. It’s a wonderful when music can do that.

The album winds to a close with another soul-drenched number “Miss You”, the spacey and trippy “Gemini” (which has a wicked awesome ending), and then with the somewhat underwhelming but no less satisfying “Over My Head”.

Taken as a whole, Sound and Color is a very impressive and beautifully done album. It possesses the raw ingredients that made their debut so infectious, but it’s got a lot more depth musically. Alabama Shakes really pushed themselves here to make a great album, to make an authentic album, to be themselves, the results are pretty GD awesome if you ask me. An early candidate for album of the year, and sure to be one of the best albums of the entire decade.

8.7

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