Album review: Alabama Shakes’ ‘Sound & Color’

Annie Zaleski

Three and a half stars

Alabama Shakes Sound & Color

The story of rock-soul band Alabama Shakes is the kind of underdog narrative that’s impossible to resist: The quartet formed in tiny Athens, Alabama, in 2009, playing a mix of classic-rock covers and originals, and broke out nationally thanks to support from Drive-By Truckers’ Patterson Hood and NPR. The curious thing about the Shakes’ 2012 debut, Boys & Girls, though, was how it lacked the ferocious energy and power of the band’s live shows.

The rougher, nontraditional Sound & Color is an improvement in that regard. The torchy, piano-speckled “Miss You” is a showcase for frontwoman Brittany Howard’s inimitable soul rasp, while “The Greatest” is pickled ’60s garage-rock. Yet what’s most stirring about this record is how little it hews to expectations or conventions. In fact, it’s most often reminiscent of My Morning Jacket’s fractured worldview. The album’s hooks are subtle, its arrangements riddled with detours, while genre-wise songs touch on delicate folk (“This Feeling”), howling psychedelic-rock (“Gimme All Your Love”), deep funk (“Future People”) and jagged classic rock (“Dunes”).

Although Sound & Color’s overuse of falsetto is somewhat distracting—and disappointing, considering Howard’s vocal prowess—the album is intriguing and complex enough to warrant repeated listens.

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