'Sound & Color' A Bold Leap Forward For Alabama Shakes

Apr 20, 2015
Originally published on April 20, 2015 6:27 pm

Brittany Howard sure can raise the roof. The singer possesses a furious streak, with startling rawness in her delivery. When I first caught Alabama Shakes live, the focus was all on her. The thing was, the band behind her sounded oddly flat: The musicians had clearly done their homework on Memphis soul, but they didn't take the music anyplace interesting. What a difference a couple years on the road can make.

This time around, the musicians of Alabama Shakes match Howard's intensity and actually push things higher. Much of their new album, Sound & Color, lives in the same vintage thrift store as Alabama Shakes' debut. But there are unexpected swerves, like the highly addictive "Don't Wanna Fight."

We've all seen how too much effusive praise from tastemakers can curse a young band. Somehow, with this followup, Alabama Shakes escaped that fate. The group grew in every way, took bold leaps and made a record that seems destined to be ubiquitous all summer long.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

That voice tells you that Alabama Shakes is back. We're listening to a song from the band's new album, "Sound & Color," powered by the vocals of Brittany Howard.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GIMME ALL YOUR LOVE")

BRITTANY HOWARD: (Singing) Gimme all your love, oh, bit more.

BLOCK: Alabama Shakes erupted out of Athens, Ala., in 2012. The group's amped-up approach to southern soul made them a favorite among critics. Reviewer Tom Moon was not wowed back then, but he says this new album took him by surprise.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GIMME ALL YOUR LOVE")

HOWARD: (Singing) Why don't you talk to me for just a little while? I can only try to make it right if you just gimme all your love, oh.

TOM MOON, BYLINE: That Brittany Howard sure can raise the roof. She's got a furious streak. There's this startling rawness in her delivery. When I first caught Alabama Shakes live, the focus was all on her. Thing was, the band behind her sounded oddly flat. The musicians had clearly done their homework on Memphis soul, but they didn't take the music anyplace interesting. What a difference a couple of years on the road makes.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FUTURE PEOPLE")

HOWARD: (Singing) (Unintelligible).

MOON: This time around, the musicians of Alabama Shakes match Brittany Howard's intensity and actually push things higher.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MISS YOU")

HOWARD: (Singing) Now you got me thinking, yeah, thinking of you. I'm thinking for the last time, yeah, the last time now that I know you're really going to leave me. Maybe that was a lie, or maybe I just changed my mind. Now I know I'm yours. I'm yours, yeah, yeah.

MOON: Much of the new album lives in the same vintage thrift store as the band's debut, but there's some unexpected swerves, like this highly addictive little song.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DON'T WANNA FIGHT")

HOWARD: (Singing) Attacking, defending until there's nothing left worth winning. Your pride and my pride. Don't waste my time.

MOON: We've all seen how too much effusive praise from critics and tastemakers can curse a young band. Somehow, with this follow-up, Alabama Shakes escaped that fate. They grew in every way, took some bold leaps and made a record that seems destined to be ubiquitous all summer long.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DON'T WANNA FIGHT")

HOWARD: (Singing) Don't wanna fight no more. Don't wanna fight no more, oh.

BLOCK: The latest from Alabama Shakes is called "Sound & Color." Our reviewer is Tom Moon. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.