REVIEW: Alabama Shakes still succeeding with bluesy gospel sound


The Appalachian Online

Jordan Williams

We’ve all heard the story. An otherwise unknown band from a small town gains huge, international success almost overnight. Despite its familiarity, the story never gets old. We’ve seen it happen for past artists such as The Beatles, Nirvana, Guns N’ Roses and for more current artists like Mumford & Sons, The Lumineers, Imagine Dragons and Kendrick Lamar.

The story is currently being retold through Alabama Shakes, an alternative band from small town Athens, Alabama.

Alabama Shakes, consisting of four southerners with a passion for rock and roll, went from playing in small bars to suddenly becoming the main attraction at festivals such as Coachella and Glastonbury. Their first album, “Boys & Girls,” obtained the No. 6 spot on the billboard charts in 2012. The album’s success can be attributed to songs such as “Hold On,” which was named the best song of 2012 by Rolling Stone magazine, and “Hang Loose,” a groovy, ’70s-inspired rock song that was featured in several television commercials.

Now, three years later, Alabama Shakes have released their highly anticipated sophomore album, “Sound and Color.” The new album displays what the band has learned from influences like Led Zeppelin, Otis Redding, The Allman Brothers, and Janis Joplin, while taking new sonic adventures that keep their music fresh and interesting.

The album’s first self-titled track, “Sound and Color,” begins with an entrancing xylophone intro brought to life by lead singer Brittany Howard’s raw, bluesy vocals. The song incorporates luscious strings that give it an early Motown feel.

Next is “Don’t Wanna Fight,” the first single for the album. The song acts as a transition from the mellow, smooth first track to the hard, bluesy rock sound that Alabama Shakes are known for. Brittany Howard’s raw, and sometimes psychedelic, twangy vocals perfectly entwine with a funky bass line and sharp guitar licks. Howard’s vocals grow more intense as the song progresses, showcasing her talent as a singer.

The track “Future People,” is catchy and southern, and shows off Howard’s beautiful falsetto vocals, similar to that of Aretha Franklin. “Gimme All Your Love,” is next, a slower ballad that features the album’s most intense vocals and raw, jagged edge guitar playing.

Howard’s romantic lyrics help give the song it’s own personal appeal: “So tell me what you wanna do/You say the world, it doesn’t fit with you/Why don’t you talk to me for just a little while?/I can only try to make it right.” The song then transitions into an unexpected danceable jam session, with a backing organ and ‘70s inspired guitar solo.

Alabama Shakes can rock, but it’s not until the song “This Feeling” that the band makes an awesome slower acoustic track. Howard’s vocals resemble that of Janis Joplin and Redding, while her lyrics shine with sweet, honey-glazed romanticism. Lead guitarist Heath Fogg’s acoustic picking make the song sound both relaxing and raw at the same time.

“The Greatest,” is the band exploring their garage rock roots. The song begins with a “check this out” from Howard. The sharp guitar work of the song and pounding drums go hand in hand with Howard’s reverbed enhanced vocals.

“Miss You,” resembles a Redding recording, with dirty, southern soul and gospel instrumentation in addition Howard’s vocal work.

“Gemini,” is a six-minute epic track that features several genres including psychedelic rock, blue rock, and gospel. It showcases excellent psychedelic guitar similar to Norman Greenbaum’s 1969 classic, “Spirit in the Sky.” The bluesy organ and xylophone are accompanied with vocal effects that make the track flow.

While this album may contain more slower, bluesier songs, Alabama Shakes pulls it off with incredible ability. The band simultaneously keeps their own hard hitting southern roots whilst exploring a new sonic territory.

If you’re looking for an album that has a mellow, sunny day southern rock feel, beautiful and passionate bluesy vocals, and hard-hitting rock instrumentation, then “Sound & Color” is for you.

Alabama Shakes are currently on tour and are scheduled to play at the Koka Booth Amphitheatre in Cary, North Carolina on June 10.

Story by Jordan Williams, Intern A&E Reporter