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Music: Sound & Color – Alabama Shakes

Michael Buffalo Smith

Michael Buffalo Smith

Buffalo hails from Spartanburg, SC. Officially the "Ambassador of Southern Rock," he has written for many publications including Rolling Stone, Relix, Goldmine and his own Kudzoo Magazine. He is also a recording artist and author of six books, the latest being "Rebel Yell: An Oral History of Southern Rock."
Michael Buffalo Smith

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sound and color album

The first thing you need to know is, don’t expect a clone of The Shakes roots rock debut Boys & Girls. The new album shifts gears, showing off whole new dimensions within the group’s music. While the band’s powerhouse lead singer Brittany Howard has often been compared to Janis Joplin and Etta James, the new album finds her being compared to folks such as Prince, Curtis Mayfield and Marvin Gaye.

The lyrics of ‘Future People,’ a song about meeting deceased family members and friends as spirit guides, are laid atop a bed of what can only be described as heavy bass driven psychedelic funk. ‘Guess Who’ finds The Shakes mining the same musical territory as Marvin Gaye’s ‘What’s Goin’ On,’ with Howard crooning in a very Prince-like vibe – total departure from her usual vocal pyrotechnics. Just as you wrap your mind around the fact that this smooth groove really is the Alabama Shakes, they kick you in the crotch on the next number, ‘The Greatest,’ a kind of punk meets Rolling Stones garage band rocker that begs for repeat listenings. I had to back up the needle and hear it at least twice more before moving on. I dig it that much.

The title track, ‘Sound & Color,’ may be the most “radio ready” song on the record, a super-bad slow groove soul jam with Howard in top form on vocals. (As an aside, I recently made a mix-tape and put this song back to back with David Bowie’s ‘Sound and Vision’ and it was instant coolness.) One of the absolute coolest lyrics on the record is ‘Don’t Wanna Fight,’ a song for our times that speaks to the fact that conflict ruins everything good in life. Think “why can’t we all just get along,” a popular quote for sure, but also a mantra to which we should all aspire.