Friday, 24 April 2015

Alabama Shakes-Sound and Colour

There is always talk of the second album blues, the follow up curse, bands losing their way as the pressure mounts to replicate the success of the debut or breakthrough album. You begin to question yourself, question your direction, the label wants a song for radio, management want a repeat of the previous record, too much touring not enough writing it all adds to the pressure mix. However it seems Alabama Shakes are having none of it, their second album is on their own terms and you can hear it. This is an incredible second album make no mistake, the maturation sonically and lyrically is amazing, unsettling even. Where their debut Boys and Girls had a more straightforward soul/garage influenced sound, Sound and Colour is more enveloping and grander with elements of soul, punk and psychedelic grooves. Each song has a larger  ore complex sound, even in the moment where it's delicate and intricate you feel the band taking risks and going beyond where they have gone previously, musically the band are just totally in sync it's a sonic delight. Producer Blake Mills has been the perfect conduit to something beyond the 3 minute blasts of breezy soul that was their first album.

Sound and Color has a distinct Curtis Mayfield feel and then it departs down this strangely intriguing road, the title becomes a mantra as twisting, bending strings cascade and suddenly there is an ominous sense of dread permeating through the song. Already right there we have an indication that all is not as it seems and that everything is different, the band have grown perhaps beyond anyone expectations. Don't Wanna Fight has a pulsing groove, more sparse the focus being on Brittany Howard's impassioned pleas,

I can't get no relief
Livin ain't no fun
The constant dedication
Keeping the water and power on
There ain't nobody left
Why can't I catch my breath
I'm gonna work myself to death

Dunes is one of the albums highlights it has a deep dark resonating power, the guitar of Heath Fogg penetrates every corner aided by the thunderous rolls of drummer Steve Johnson, punctuated by the tortured wail of Howard as a distant chime rings. Slowly there is a disintegration as Howard despairs "I'm losing it". Gimme All Your Love is Chicago soul right down to those Mayfield style guitar chords that almost act like another voice, very expressive. The lightness then gives way to what could only be described a modern version of Big Brother and the Holding Company, searing vocals and a band with considerable power and presence. In the middle of the song the band stop and then build a slow burning shuffle with some nice hammond work. Everything on this album sounds big, it's all consuming in such an engaging way. This Feeling is optimistic it's a testament to the hard work of the band that they have achieved what they set out to achieve.

See I've been having a real good time
And it feels so nice to know I'm gonna be alright.

Guess Who has a frenetic electro beat against the relaxed soul groove that Curtis made his own in the 70's, The Greatest sounds like the Ramones fragmented and dirty with power pop style guitars. Shoegaze is reflective, of the position the band find themselves in there is a sense of being fulfilled by the present, but also perhaps secretly wanting more and not understanding why it can't be so.

It ain't no fun to be lonely
But I was not truly lonely
And I'm beginning to realise it
I can't have everything, everything
Why can't I

A truly remarkable album is still buzzing between my ears, it's more than her voice, it's the whole band. From Zac's funkified bass lines to Heath's Curtis inspired fills to Bonham style pounding of Steve on the drums. Then there is Brittany Howard, Joplinesque but with so much more control and variety, she can wail, plead, quietly explain and have you the listener captured.

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