Words by Steve Melone
With the digital age upon us, there is more music available than ever before. Whether it’s from years past, or the most current releases, anyone can listen to anything they choose. Bands like the Alabama Shakes remind many of us about music that preceded today’s fashionable trends in the music industry, and the roots of rock n’ roll are clearly displayed in Sound & Color, the second studio effort from the Grammy nominated act.
Originating in Athens, Alabama, the gang of four remain one of the few true rock and roll bands in music today, and they’ve only just begun. The band’s 2012 debut release, Boys & Girls was reminiscent of the earliest remnants of ‘rock and roll’ through southern Appalachia roots. It had pieces of different rock puzzles all mixed in one. Blues rock, funk, and soul all mixed together, unified by a powerful and passionate vocal flame bringing on flashes of rock’s golden age. Many have made comparisons of front-woman Brittany Howard to Janis Joplin, which seems credible on Boys & Girls, but fails to hold up throughout Sound & Color. Her true influences; David Bowie, James Brown and Nina Simone can be more clearly recognized on the group’s latest release.
Songs like, “Gimme All Your Love,” and “Dunes,” echo psychedelic rock and 70’s funk & soul. With constantly shifting tempos and backup singers shouting in harmony, it wouldn’t be a surprise if someone thought this music was decades old. Listeners even get a sense of R&B in songs like, “Over My Head,” “Gemini,” and “Sound & Color”, where Howard’s voice takes on more calm and gentle musical waters, yet remains just as soulful as any other tune she delivers. “Don’t Wanna Fight,” loudly reminds listeners of Howard’s influences of James Brown, and blues rock that is imminent in the music the group puts out. It’s no surprise that Howard grew up in the church singing gospel songs; it only makes sense when hearing the soul and power in her vocals over and over again. With blues-inspired guitar licks, a hard hitting crescendo of simple guitar and piano, “Future People,” is another tune that can make you move whether you’re at a live show or in your basement.
But, the overlooked originality of this album is what many don’t seem to understand. This music is derived through many influences of the past directly and indirectly, yet lends itself to something completely new. Many old-school rock fanatics would hope that a band like Alabama Shakes would continue on a more generic path, making albums similar to Boys & Girls where band evolution is less important and rock music duplication & emulation of years past is. This band has other plans, forging on and making solid music that we can all enjoy—no matter your gender, race or age. It’s just good ole fashioned, but somehow new rock and roll!
‘Sound & Color’
© April 21st, 2015
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