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Alabama Shakes – Sound & Color

7.9

Before there was Rachel Dolezal, there was Brittany Howard of the Alabama Shakes. Specifically, the Brittany Howard of the Alabama Shakes who came to New York City to win over a white audience by sounding like Hillary Clinton trying to win over a black crowd by shrieking how she “don’t feel no ways tired.”

That made for one of the weirder concerts of 2012. To be fair, the Alabama Shakes were packing in a crowd that properly appreciated a strong debut album. Boys & Girls was still kind of puzzling to people who’d seen the band back in 2010, when the Shakes sounded more like Steely Dan or Boz Scaggs dreaming of being Rush or Genesis.

There was an awful lot of unexpected soulfulness when the Alabama Shakes found fame with Boys & Girls. At least it made sense that the band could fake that. They came awfully close to sounding like Rush and Genesis back down South. And if Brittany Howard suddenly had little speeches to give about growing up in a segregated town – well, so what? It just gave the crowd in Brooklyn something more to cheer.

It’s still great news that Sound & Color is a lot closer to the debut album that some of us expected. Critics are raving about the band’s new sound, and they’re almost right. The tunes really are a big leap from when the Shakes promised to bring backwoods sincerity to prog-rock. The soulful moments feel less tortured now, and give the band a solid foundation for when they strip down a sound that used to be closer to yacht rock.

That original vision is still there, though. Sound & Color has plenty of fine moments where the band sounds like Phoebe Snow fronting Iron Butterfly. That was something to get excited about back in the pre-fame days. It’s pretty cool how the Alabama Shakes were bold enough to quickly skip expectations and get back to their true ambitions – even at risk of alienating an audience that had once been such an easy lay.

They’re a lot more fun in concert now, too. Brittany sure seems more like herself. And if the Brooklyn crowd really needs some Alabama minstrelsy, there’s always St. Paul and the Broken Bones.

Alabama Shakes
Sound & Color
[ATO]