Alabama Shakes' use of Blues Rock and Soul has taken the four-piece band from Athens, Alabama, to great heights in a relatively short period of time. Their sophomore effort '
Sound & Color' is a similar cocktail of Kings Of Leon licks, The Black Keys infused Blues, and classic Soul power, but there are a few extra ingredients to add a little more spice tucked away here. This certainly isn't 'Boys & Girls' MKII, indeed there's less reliance on those catchy guitar hooks this time around. While Brittany Howard's occasionally astonishing vocals are the main attraction again, there's undoubtedly a real musical progression that's been made by the rest of the band. The result is that Alabama Shakes feel far less like a Soul band trying to pass themselves off as an Indie band; they're now quite comfortable in their own skin.
Straight out of the gate, the title track has an almost hypnotic effect with its slightly syncopated drum rhythm, strings, and repeated "Sound & Color" mantra. It's not the only time where the familiar incessant guitar hooks of the previous album are entirely absent. On first listen, it's almost slightly jarring with your expectation, but it's that drumming that really shines and that's the thing that pulls you in. The shift in focus also seems unexpected considering that Blake Mills has co-produced the record. Surely a man famed for his guitar playing would choose to highlight that aspect of Alabama Shakes successful formula? Well, no; Mills is no stranger to using instruments sparingly for dramatic effect, and it really shows here.
The next few tracks seem to head back towards a more recognisable musical template for Alabama Shakes. The energetic and confrontational 'Don't Wanna Fight' gives Howard a chance to really let rip vocally, but again, behind the funky guitar line, it's those drums that catch the ear. Perhaps the stand-out of the record 'Gimme All Your Love' is the best example of Mills' expertise in deploying instruments sparingly. The guitars dramatically punctuate a late night jazz club beat that ebbs and flows into a final impressive call and response instrumental jam that's perhaps the band's finest moment committed to tape thus far. It's perhaps fitting that the acoustic 'This Feeling' follows as a respite from the aural assault that's come beforehand.
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