I am blasting ‘Sound & Color’, the new Alabama Shakes album at home, I could not get a ticket to see them in Jimmy Kimmel Live, I wasn’t invited to their intimate performance at Apogee Studios in Santa Monica arranged for the press, but I just got to see their signing at Amoeba on Tuesday night. Better than nothing, plus I caught a bit of this intimate performance on the web, since it was broadcasted yesterday via KCRW’s website…
And I wish I had been in that room because this Brittany girl has such a strong personality beside her great talent! With her unique bluesy-soulful music, she commanded the set the whole time, bringing something retro, but also something very chaotic, dangerous, even menacing,… damn she was good! There was a sort of Al Green vibe but she could reach much higher notes with the right attitude. Back up by singers complimenting her voice with harmonies and depth, accompanied by her excellent band bringing an emotional 70’s feeling with some jazzy shades, Brittany Howard looked like the real deal, sweating her heart out, and shaking her giant Alabama tattoo. She had a sort of Janis-Joplin moments – a probably very worn out comparison – but they were anything but fake. Saying that she fully lived her music would be an understatement, she twisted her mouth and opened it as large as if she wanted to swallow the whole room at once,… she looked like the type of character who could transform a band into a legend.
Needless to say that Alabama Shakes’ signing at Amoeba got sold out very fast, and fresh from their taping for the Jimmy Kimmel Live show the same day, they arrived at Amoeba, and I got to see them a bit closer… They looked very happy and extremely cool of course, Brittany was all smile and was non-stop head banging as the store was playing the new record.
In a press statement, she explained ‘We took our time to write this record, and I’m really glad we did. We were able to sit down and think about what’s exciting to us, explore all the things we wanted to on our first album. This record is full of genre-bending songs – it’s even harder now when people ask, ‘What kind of band are you?’ I have no clue.’ And she is right, Alabama Shakes is much more than a 70’s-inspired soul-blues revival band. She nevertheless cites the Super Fly soundtrack, Gil Scott-Heron’s music as influences, but not so much because they wanted to sound like them, but because of ‘all of their attention to small details.’
‘Ever since ‘Boys & Girls’ came out, we’ve tried really hard to not give in to media or public definition of what we should be,’ declared guitarist Heath Fogg. ‘So those kinds of influences have been there all the time, but this record pushes them to different extremes -before, if we had a more contemporary R&B feel, it was more hidden under a classic vibe, but it’s separated a little more drastically on this one.’
‘Gimme All Your Love’ is probably the hit song of this album with Brittany’s expansive and explosive howl, and it doesn’t sound anything like many of the other songs of the album. Nothing like the atypical ‘Future People’, which ‘started as an experiment with native African rhythms, and then went into something like a dream sequence, and then turned into these children’s-group vocals’, or nothing like the more punk-garage rock of ‘The Greatest’, which sounds as if David-Bowie was freaking out during a gospel.
‘We really thought about what record we wanted to make, and decided that we didn’t want to do something like Boys & Girls, Part Two,’ added Brittany Howard. ‘We’ve grown a lot, learned a lot about music, listened and thought about a lot of things – about being minimal and tasteful, keeping it classy. After that decision to start over, with a clean slate, it was easy. We could just do what we wanted to do.’
‘Sound & Color’ is a very rich and inventive album and it will take a while to fully explore it.
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