In 2012, the roots-rock band Alabama Shakes rose to international fame on the success of their hit single “Hold On,” a bluesy pop tune that maintained a level of grit while still packing a hook that Taylor Swift could easily make her own. At the end of the day, however, the acclaim was mostly directed towards the magnetic power of vocalist Brittany Howard; colossal and relentless, her melodies were projectile missiles that hit like a Mack truck to the face. On the band’s debut LP, Boys & Girls, the rest of Alabama Shakes often felt like little more than a backing band; tight, solid, yet often bland and forgettable. It was easy to hear Howard’s nuclear bomb of a voice and nothing else.
Now Alabama Shakes are back with their sophomore release, Sound & Color (out April 21 on ATO Records), and their metamorphosis into a full-bodied ensemble is immediately apparent. On lead single “Don’t Wanna Fight,” the dual guitars provided by Howard and Heath Fogg shimmer, snarl and sing with voices of their own. Zac Cockrell’s bass packs a brutal punch, and drummer Steve Johnson lays down the band’s funkiest groove on record.
Produced by Fiona Apple’s frequent collaborator Blake Mills, Sound & Color is a record of gigantic sounds; every instrument has been expanded, taking up just as much sonic space as Howard's voice. Perhaps no one benefits more than Johnson, whose snare and toms explode like fireworks throughout the album. On “Gimme All Your Love,” he plays just what is needed and nothing else, providing a solid anchor as the rest of the band rockets off in all directions.
While the spotlight will inevitably linger on Brittany Howard, the band’s new material makes one thing clear: no matter where the light is focused, they're all glowing in it.