Alabama Shakes’s “Sound and Color” brings next-level soul

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Peyton Whittington, Staff reporter

When describing the musical abilities of Alabama Shakes frontwoman Brittany Howard, “sing” itself is insufficient. The word cannot contain the emotionally taxing and intensely poignant vocals she exhibits on the group’s sophomore album, “Sound and Color,” released April 21 via ATO Records, MapleMusic Recordings and Rough Trade Records.

The Shakes earned a groundswell of support in their debut album, “Boys and Girls,” and have shown in this record that they still have that fire. The igniting spark is Howard’s chilling vocal work in the album’s stand-out track, “Gimme All Your Love,” in which she frequently shifts from placid tones to impassioned wailing. This track thoroughly merges deeply-rooted Southern soul, kaleidoscopic, 70s rock ‘n’ roll and the eclectic indie sounds of today’s alternative artists.

Other tracks on the album also exhibit influences from Queen, The Black Keys, Billie Holiday, Kings of Leon, Macy Gray and even Otis Redding. Track two, “Don’t Wanna Fight,” draws comparisons to Maroon 5’s earlier work, specifically in their “Songs about Jane” period in the early 2000’s.

Despite these parallels to other artists, The Shakes still preserve their own unique sound. This record widened the group’s instrumental palette while maintaining directional simplicity. The storytelling on each track was simplified to the raw emotion, presenting a new type of minimalism that packs a punch. Howard introduces this concept from the get-go, beckoning the listener in with “A new world hangs outside the window/Beautiful and strange/It must be falling away/I must be,” on the album’s self-titled opening track.

The record’s closing track, “Over My Head,” was a risky choice for the album’s conclusion; however, Howard’s layered vocal tracks give the song a three-dimensionality that works.

Alabama Shakes caught the world’s eye through their psychedelic, bluesy sound and have proved in this record that they are willing to grow and experiment with other music styles.

“We’ve grown a lot, learned a lot about music, listened and thought a lot about things—about being minimal and tasteful, keeping it classy,” Howard said in an interview with ATO Records. “After that decision to start over with a clean slate, it was easy. We could just do what we wanted to do.”

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