“Hold On” was an interesting enough song, but the tune that got me into the Alabama Shakes was “Hang Loose.” It features one of my favorite guitar licks of the past couple years- that rolling along the hillside lead line that intros the song and kicks off the verses. Beyond that, the song is so wondrously simplistic and fun, it’s damn near impossible not to like. That’s actually how I would generally class the Alabama Shakes- damn near impossible not to like.
This band, the one that is damn near impossible not to like, is back with their sophomore album, Sound & Color, the follow-up to 2012’s Boys & Girls. In between them, the only taste of new music from the band was the song “Always Alright,” playing along with the end credits of Silver Linings Playbook.
The song became one of my favorite tunes of the band’s, a true holy roller of a good time, some quality Shit Kickin’ Rock. As a precursor to any new material from the band, it worked wonders at holding my interest and increasing my anticipation for whatever the band delivered next. And what’s next is Sound & Color, scheduled to be released next week but available for an early listen thanks to our tote-bag wielding friends over at NPR. As the band’s sophomore release and an album following up such a successful debut, how would it play? Would they succumb to mindless self-indulgence, would they stay the course, would they dance dangerously across party lines or veer wildly off the road into the deep, dark, dangerous woods?
There would be only one way to find out, by checking out Sound & Color and seeing…or hearing what the band came up with.
Track One: “Sound & Color”
Well, definitely a departure from anything heard on Boys & Girls. Opening on the mellow side, the sound of vibes accompanied a few beats in by a subtle, but snappy back beat. It’s more Motown than Deep South and already, more wide open than anything on the last record, which consisted of razor sharp, tight rock songs. This has a spaced out vibe I like- almost My Morning Jacket-esque in the way it seems to float along atmospherically. And shit, are those strings?
Track Two: “Don’t Want to Fight”
The single; been hearing it a lot lately, especially when driving my ladies’ whip that has the fancy, schmancy satellite radio. This song is on a lot and not on one station- on a couple. Satellite radio does that and I’m not a fan. It’s hard enough when one station overplays a song, but when a couple stations do it gets to be trouble. But that’s not the band’s fault and whatever, this song is dope and seems that, to this point at least, a barometer of the change between the first album and this album. It has the compact rhythm of Boys & Girls and the infusion of soulful swagger that seems to be incorporated with this album. Really like this song.
Track Three: “Dunes”
This song has some confident muscle flexing to it. It’s also very relaxed. So it’s kind of a mixed bag. The song though is good…not great, but good and has a cool guitar riff in the chorus, a strong, descending riff that could be downright dangerous in the wrong hands. Works well here, though.
Track Four: “Future People”
Another sly guitar line and I’ve decided that’s a thing for this band- sly guitar lines. So many of their songs are built around them. Brittany Howard’s voice floats as opposed to commands. Then things get a little sonic-ish in the chorus with a menacing-sounding synthesizer. Not sure how I feel about this song. I think it’s a song that works well in context, as part of their album, but not sure it’s something I’d listen to on it’s own.
Track Five: “Gimme All Your Love”
Oh, they played this on Saturday Night Live a few weeks ago. It’s a good song- has a punch to it. My wife likes this song. My dog? No response. She’s fickle like that. I like Howard’s vocals, how they have an edge to them. Of course you could say that about a lot of her songs and her style in general, but on this song, the vocals work well with the sparse instrumentation. Howard really sings with a ferocity. It’s admirable. The song then has a great bridge section in which a build flows into an easy like Sunday morning groove. The organ in the background is money. I bet this song is dope live.
Track Six: “This Feeling”
File this one under: perfectly placed finger snaps.
Track Seven: “Guess Who”
Sneak attack! Sounded like this would be another mellow number, but then the beat and rhythm guitar kicks in and we got ourselves some subtle boogie woogie going on. I respect the restraint of this song. This is a really good song- might even be my favorite so far. It’s sensual, little hip-swaying action music. Get those lights low; maybe light up a jazz cigarette if that’s your bag. Either way, this song is smooth. And again, props for the restraint.
Track Eight: “The Greatest”
Uh…not sure about this song. Kind of grew on me after awhile. Definitely a barn burner. Maybe it’d be better later in the album.
Track Nine: “Shoe Gaze”
I appreciate the lack of polish on this album when it comes to production. That can be one of the things that torpedo sophomore albums- too much spit and polish. Sound & Color has grit to it and it comes across through the speakers. Tip of the hat for that, Shakes. As for this song, it’s another good, not great one. I wonder what this band would be like with a different singer? Like, what if it was just some dude? I bet we wouldn’t know they even existed. Interesting to think about, though.
Track Ten: “Miss You”
This is an old school blues number- has the swing, has the longing, has the dude with Mickey Mouse tattoo. It’s a reminder that part of the initial appeal of Alabama Shakes was that they were the bar band playing in a bar you wish you were hanging out in. A bar with shitty lighting, cheap beer and a beat up pool table that was forgiving on one of the corner pockets. This song fits that place and is a fun call back to the Shakes of 2012.
Track Eleven: “Gemini”
Can we take a minute to point out the Shakes’ bass player is an amazing dude to look at?
His beard is breath-taking.
As for this song, it’s pretty effin’ sweet. And of course, features a cool as ish guitar line. Because that’s what the Alabama Shakes do- write songs with sickly sweet guitar parts. Not sure what the next song will be like, but “Gemini” would be a cool closer for the album.
Track Twelve: “Over My Head”
“I’m in over my head…”
Really, Howard’s voice is a national treasure. Going big, rolling soft- it doesn’t matter. It never fails to grab your attention. Hmmm…not sure about the hand claps, though. The backing singers are wonderful and I really like the sparse keys dancing around the periphery. This is actually a pretty good closer for the album.
Congrats to you Alabama Shakes…sophomore jinx successfully averted.