Three years on from their debut album Boys & Girls, Alabama Shakes are back with an excellent follow-up in Sound & Color. Three years between your debut and sophomore album is hardly unusual these days (once it would have lead to ‘where are they now-type articles!) but it’s clear that the time has been well-spent.
What Brittany Howard and the boys have managed to do is to produce an album that follows on from their debut record, but delves into more areas, so it is obvious from the off that this is not merely Boys & Girls Mk 2. It has been described elsewhere as being a more kaleidoscopic record, and that’s something I’d agree with. It’s got a lot of influences that draw from what us Brits might see as music from the American south – soul, funk, blues and gospel, played witha garage attitude and with a touch of Prince.
Whilst their debut’s opening track ‘Hold On’ came on like an anthem (and there’s fewer anthems on this album), it’s more the case here that the album’s opening title track is more of a mission statement for this record. And from there to ‘Don’t Wanna Fight’ right through to the final two tracks, the six and a half minute ‘Gemini’ and the closing ballad ‘Over My Head’ this is an album that shows the band continuing to grow and set their horizons ever wider, their sights ever higher.
I’ve never been to the Southern States of America (not a snub to anyone, just never got further than New Jersey so far), but I guess I do have an idea of what consitutes lot of southern music: rock that’s dirty in a different way to New York or LA, with blues, soul, gospel and country thrown in for good measure (I have now idea whether people from Alabama see Grime as being ‘East London’ and Dubstep as being ‘South London.’ But hey.) And Alabama Shakes tick a lot of those boxes in a mighty fine way.
The thing that draws you in most to Alabama Shakes is the vocals of frontperson and guitarist Brittany Howard. Recent single ‘Hold On’ (currently picking up a fair bit of radio play, and rightly so) is like a manifesto for what they are as a band. In fact, Ms. Howard’s vocals are so strong, that you wonder if in a repetition of the blokes from Blondie whether there will a ‘Alabama Shakes is a band’ t-shirt (anything for them to end up being tagged ‘Sleeper-blokes -go and ask your Mum). She’s cetainly got a bright future ahead of her. Her vocals genuinely comparable to the likes of Aretha Franklin and Nina Simone – and I don’t make that comparison lightly.
It’s a strong debut, with other very strong tracks in the form of the beuatiful ‘You Ain’t Alone’, ‘Rise to the sun’ and ‘Be Mine’. It’s a wonderful antidote to so much of the dross that’s out there. What I’d love to hear them do is a really, raw soul album, with someone like Steve Albini at the controls. I think they have it in them to make a jaw-dropping record -but this is a fine starting-point.
Boys & Girls is released by Rough Trade on April 9.
Yet again, I’m hearing lots of new stuff and hardly having time to write about it all.
So here’s a things that have taken my fancy that I have heard recently.
First up, Azealia Banks continues to surprise and delight. Having hosted her free single recently, I was impressed to see that a huge number of people had downloaded it.
This is her latest track ‘NEEDSUMLOV’ which bears little or no ressemblance to ‘212.’ At this stage of her career, that’s probably a good thing. She’s getting a lot of coverage in the UK at the moment, to the extent that she’s moved here. Check her Soundcloud for more
Not content with putting out Howler’s debut album, Rough Trade have picked up Alabama Shakes and will release their debut album on April 9, Entitled Boys & Girls. The band are vocalist/guitarist Brittany Howard, guitarist Heath Fogg, drummer Steve Johnson and bassist Zac Cockrell, and count Jack White among their growing band of admirers. Stream ‘Hold On’ below…
This is a Dubstep remix of The Beatles’ ‘A Day In the Life.’ To some this will be little short of Blasphemy. It’s my favourite Beatles’ track and I love what’s been done here by Voodoo Farm.