zondag 14 juni 2015

Sound & Color. Alabama Shakes

In the past few weeks I read some raving reviews on Alabama Shakes' second album, but didn't get around to listen to it. They were all extremely positive and spelled out like 'One giant step forwards'. It made me quite curious now I finally have the album in the home.

Alabama Shakes received a fairly good review in 2012 for its debut album 'Boys & Girls' (read here: http://wonomagazine.blogspot.nl/2012/08/boys-girls-alabama-shakes.html). The world seemed to agree as the review is still ticked regularly to this day.

If one thing is defining for Alabama Shakes to date it is the & sign in its album titles and soberly coloured album sleeves. Musically the band dives even deeper into soul territory. Alabama Shakes sounds an awful lot more authentic and is able to couple subtlety with strength. Singer Brittany Howard convinces easily without having to strain herself. The difference is huge. Sound & Color was produced by Blake Mills, the musician that was lauded by our Erwin Zijleman as having made his personal album of 2015.

Not that all is quiet on Sound & Color. 'The Greatest' gave me a fright. The loud rocker with distorted guitars and Howard singing almost Julian Casablancas style, makes out for The Rolling Stones meet The Velvet Underground and The Strokes in its better days. Vocal chords are torn apart, speaker cabinets played to kingdom come. A great surprise 'The Greatest' is.

Before that, 'The Greatest' is song number 8, it is smooth sailing at first glance. Not all is well though. Now we are in noise territory, let's focus on song 9. 'Shoegaze', is another rocker, where Stax guitars come together with Kings of Leon and again The Stones. Alabama Shakes knows how to rock, which is no surprise for a band who used to cover songs from the likes of Led Zeppelin and AC/DC on the rock side and Otis Redding and James Brown on the other. This still shines through on Sound & Color. Otis is remembered in a song like 'Miss You'. Brittany Howard can sing an Otis style song in the best Janis Joplin tradition. It is in this diversity that Alabama Shakes shows the quality it holds. Guitarist Heath Fogg seems to have the right sounds in his toolkit for each song. The rhythm section is inventive and knows how to build tension into a song. The keyboards of Ben Tanner fills the small holes that the rest of the band leaves open in pleasant and at times surprising ways.

Over all this Brittany Howard, the composer and singer of the band shines. There's just no other word for it. Don't expect a pretty voice. Howard has all but that. Her voice sounds as if it has been abused by everything it could be abused with for the past 100 years and lived to tell. It's rough, unkind, at times flat unpleasant, but it is all this music needs. A mix of rhythm & blues, soul, jazz, rock and the faintest hint of pop is blended by this voice in just the right way. Special, forceful and where necessary the subtlety itself.

Where to start where influences are concerned? 'Son of a Preacher Man' I'd say. Dusty Springfield's best song. Because this is also a female voice. Although this is relative on this album. Brittany Howard could have fooled me in a few songs. After that all the names already mentioned step in.

Sound & Color starts as a surprise. The song that gave the name to this album, is a soul ballad. With a clear sounding electric piano playing far apart notes carrying the intro. Nothing like I expected this album to start. A straightforward statement was more what I'd expected. The album begins as it ends, with 'Over My Head'. Slowly, drenched in echoes and the full space of the recording studio. Blake Mills really captured the band in its full glory. Skipping to the second song, 'Don't Wanna Fight', is more funky, but also holds all this room to disappear in as listener. As if the instruments are miles apart and I can play in between where ever I like.

It is at second listen that I notice that not all is so quiet as I thought at first. This is the impression Sound & Color gave me though. 'Dunes' is a rocker, with a loud lead guitar, that steps back when necessary. The notes are purely elementary, but each one is in its right place.

Slowly but surely it begins to dawn on me that I'm listening to a masterpiece. Nothing on 'Boys & Girls' prepared me for 'Sound & Color'. Recently I read somewhere that bands nowadays are not able to come up with a good second or third album. There's one band that did. It's name? Alabama Shakes. Three years for a new album is a maddening long time for a creative artist, I'd say. This was well worth the wait though. And, Alabama Shakes has proven me wrong. Why? Click on the link above (or better copy it into your browser!) and you'll find out. This album is a must listen!


You can listen to 'Don't Wanna Fight' here


or buy at Bol.com

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