Alabama Shakes walked home with a staggering four Grammy awards in early 2016, winning two (Best Alternative Music Album and Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical) for Sound & Color and two more (Best Rock Performance and Best Rock Song) for Sound & Color‘s best single, “Don’t Wanna Fight.” (Okay, so it was the engineers Shawn Everett and Bob Ludwig who were actually awarded the Grammy for Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical, not Alabama Shakes themselves, but it was for their album so I’m lumping it with the others.) What’s more, Sound & Color was nominated for Album of the Year, though it lost to…Taylor Swift’s 1989. (Sorry, Taylor. I’m just not a fan.) Naturally, this was enough to turn my head, since Alabama Shakes had been — literally until I tuned in to the broadcast of the Grammys — a blank spot for me.
My initial research uncovered that Alabama Shakes had released a debut LP back in 2012 called Boys & Girls — obviously it had evaded my notice, as well. I didn’t start reviewing albums until 2013, so it’s not that surprising, but still, Boys & Girls is currently the 2,725th most acclaimed album of all time according to AcclaimedMusic.net. This is clearly a modern rock band to take seriously, and I have made it my mission to give everybody considered good a fair (ahem) shake by reviewing their work here or at least giving their music a cursory listen to see if it’s for me. My first reaction upon listening to Sound & Color was that production-wise, it screams Brothers- or even El Camino-era Black Keys.
Given that Alabama Shakes are from, well, Alabama, and Brothers was cut in Muscle Shoals, Alabama at the legendary Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, where many classic southern soul records were made, this really isn’t too surprising. However, this is no soul record, although there is a hint of traditional R&B; this is absolutely a rock album. And Sound & Color steals from the Black Keys’ sound almost wholesale — the record is direct, dry, usually without any reverb on the bottom end, and is frequently counterbalanced with fuzzed-out (though carefully controlled) electric guitar. It’s not quite the studio version of copyright infringement, but it does raise my eyebrows a little. At any rate, this treatment gives the record a polished, “grippy” feel, and it serves the tunes Alabama Shakes have written pretty well.
In other words, even though the form is not that original, functionally the music works, for the most part, so it’s hard to care. A third of the album — “Don’t Wanna Fight,” “Future People,” “Gimme All Your Love,” and “Shoegaze” — is very good, and the rest is pretty good, too. No songs are bad, though two or three are a little slow/uneventful. If you’re into contemporary rock and haven’t heard Sound & Color, give it a shot.