Two albums in, and Alabama Shakes are batting 1.000.
In fact, I'm not even sure the five-piece band from - ready? - Alabama have released a single bad song. After 2012's debut "Boys & Girls," the group released their sophomore album "Sound and Color" to great success this past April. It's been all over the radio, and it totally deserves to be. For starters, let's look back on "Boys & Girls".
"Hold On" (linked above) is the one that really got the career of this group off the ground, to the tune of 12 million YouTube views and countless more radio plays. In truth, the song does a really good job of representing what's so attractive about Alabama Shakes. Above all, the groups rides the coattails of lead singer Brittany Howard's ridiculous natural grit and passion. She's the star, and she knows it. Without Howard, there is no Alabama Shakes. The rest of the album is solid, too, but it's the group's April release that will vault them into the popular repertoire.
But dependence upon one member is not a crutch when that member is a superstar like Howard. She's got tons of appeal, both as a musician on a recording and as a performer: check out any of the group's live videos and you'll know just what I mean. She pours her soul onto the stage each time, and that's not easy to do. Above are just two examples: "Future People," from this year's Coachella, and "Over My Head" from a show in London, a uniquely passionate, bare-bones performance that not many artists are capable of. She is an absolute powerhouse, practically falling over upon stressing the key line. We're enjoying the performance, but it's so clear that she's doing so much more than just making music.
What is so impressive about this year's "Sound and Color" is the versatility of the songs, of Howard's voice, and of the band's range. It's a really complete album, simply put. We get the hard-rocking ability of Howard's bandmates in songs like "Miss You," but that's not what stands out. Instead, it's the quantity and quality of the ballad-type tracks. These songs are clearly built by Howard, for Howard, and they are her tool to showcase the power of her voice. "This Feelin'" provides a good example. "Over My Head" is really next-level. It's not a dialogue between lead singer and a crowd, as most live performances are; no, this is something quite different. This is between Howard and Howard. Her voice is her mind, as are the backup vocalists, as is the bass that she commands to enter when she finishes the chorus; this is all about her.
Not to be overlooked is the legitimately great "Don't Wanna Fight," this year's answer to 2012's "Hold On." It seems to have been made for the radio - after all, any rock group really trying to establish itself knows it needs at least one catchy bit to open its door - which is a dangerous game, but "Don't Wanna Fight" manages it expertly. It's groovy, highlights Howard (noticing a theme yet?) without shunning the rest of the band (the bass and guitar are key, too), and, maybe most importantly, it's memorable (it will be stuck in your head for the rest of the day, and that's OK).
This group is well on their way, thanks to the initial success of "Boys & Girls" and the undoubted success that "Sound and Color" will bring (and already has brought). Overall, it's likable music, with different elements of different genres that cover most contemporary bases - rock, southern, roots, jazz, funk, R&B, and more. And with the exceptionally gifted Brittany Howard leading the way, Alabama Shakes are here to stay.