Alabama Shakes, Sound & Color - album review: It brims with confident ambition

A band digging in for the duration

Alabama Shakes
Alabama Shakes

If second-album jitters had anything to do with the Alabama Shakes’ slow crawl towards the follow-up to 2012’s break-out hit Boys & Girls, you wouldn’t know it.

Sound & Color brims with the confident ambition of a band discovering and exploring exactly what they’re capable of. More of their debut’s eager-toplease retro rock’n’soul would’ve been fine, but easy: instead, they re-emerge as a band sufficiently in command of themselves to accommodate some audacious modifications.

Changes are rung from the opening title-track, Brittany Howard’s rasping coo sounding the agenda: “A new world hangs outside the window, beautiful and strange.” And having made the observation, Alabama Shakes make sure to take their time to fully explore it.

Few of the opening cuts rush to ingratiate, preferring to burn slow on deep funkpsych-soul excavations: “Don’t Wanna Fight” sizzles and swaggers like James Brown, “Guess Who” is a sweet-voiced Curtis Mayfield invocation, “Future People” gets trippy.

If the impression of an intuitive band and a powerhouse voice in total control of their capacities is well made, so is the sense of a band in total sync. As Howard pulls the verse into herself before hurling out the chorus on the Otis Reddingish roof-raiser “Gimme All Your Love”, her band hang on her every word, ever attentive and supple.

“The Greatest” revisits the debut’s rollicking pitch, but even here a swerve into garage-y new-wave terrain surprises, before confident returns to a simmer for the druggy, “Try a Little Tenderness”-ish “Miss You” and languid funk of “Gemini”.

Wherever they land, Alabama Shakes take time to own the turf: sure evidence of that rare sight in the 21st century – a band digging in for the duration.

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