Alabama Shakes finds creative new path with Sound & Color

Alabama Shakes moves its soulful, blues-rock sound in a “surprising, innovative new direction” with Sound & Color, the ‘Bama band’s sophomore album on ATO Records. From the “searing” first single ‘Don't Wanna Fight’ to the “gently swaying” title track, the 12-song project reveals a band “honed by years on the road, and drawing from a wide range of influences,” according to an album profile posted on Long instrumental intros and passages create “hazy atmosphere,” while the vocal intensity of singer-guitarist Brittany Howard “snaps everything back into riveting focus.” Sound & Color is the follow-up to Alabama Shakes’ 2012 gold-selling debut album, Boys & Girls, which earned the group three Grammy nominations including a nod as Best New Artist.

The press statement notes the new album demonstrates the “tremendous strides made by a group of musicians who had only been playing together for a few months when they recorded their first album.” Frontwoman Howard adds she’s glad the band took its time to write the new record. “We were able to sit down and think about what’s exciting to us, [and] explore all the things we wanted to on our first album,” says the Athens, Ala., native. She also admits the record’s “genre-bending songs” leave her without an answer when people ask what kind of band Alabama Shakes is.

The songs on Sound & Color were written during breaks in the Shakes’ grueling touring schedule—sometimes as a group and sometimes with Howard working alone at her home studio. She and bandmates Heath Fogg (guitar, backing vocals), Zac Cockrell (bass), and Steve Johnson (drums, percussion, backing vocals) recorded Sound & Color at Nashville’s Sound Emporium studio. The band enlisted the help of Blake Mills as co-producer. The young guitarist has helmed sessions for Sara Watkins and Sky Ferriera as well as played alongside top artists such as Norah Jones, Lana Del Ray, and Kid Rock.

Howard reveals the ‘70s music of Curtis Mayfield’s “Superfly” soundtrack, The Temptations, Gil Scott-Heron, and David Axelrod influenced Sound & Color. Lead single ‘Don't Wanna Fight’ is currently No. 19 on the Mediabase Alternative airplay chart and No. 22 on Billboard’s Alternative Songs chart. Other tracks include the “bluesy groove” of ‘Shoegaze,’ “psychedelic space jam” ‘Gemini,’ and the “garage-rock freak-out” on ‘The Greatest.’ Fogg considers the cut ‘Gimme All Your Love’ to be a “pivotal moment” on Sound & Color. “A lot of songs branched out from that one,” he says.

Alabama Shakes is coming off weekend appearances at Coachella and the Brooklyn Bowl in Las Vegas. The band appears Apr. 21 on Jimmy Kimmel Live before heading out on a brief European swing, returning to North America for venue and festival stops in St Louis (May 28), Kansas City, Mo. (May 29), Minneapolis (May 30), Indianapolis (June 2), Detroit (June 3), Toronto (June 6), and the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival in Manchester, Tenn. (June 12).

The quartet is among the bands at this year’s Glastonbury Festival in England (June 24), followed by another round of concerts in Europe—including the North Sea Jazz Festival in Rotterdam, Netherlands (July 10). The Shakes are back in the U.S. July 31 for Lollapalooza in Chicago, and a handful of dates out West include the Squamish Valley Music Festival in Squamish, BC, Canada (Aug. 7) and at the picturesque Red Rocks Amphitheatre near Denver (Aug. 16).

Watch Alabama Shakes in a live performance of ‘Don't Wanna Fight,’ the first single from the group’s sophomore CD and double vinyl LP Sound & Color

As A Matter of Fact…

* Alabama Shakes is a Muscle Shoals-inspired band out of Athens, Ala., that started when singer-guitarist Brittany Howard met bass player Zac Cockrell in high school. The two had a shared love of Led Zeppelin and The Ramones, and began making their own music.

* The duo added drummer Steve Johnson and went to Clearwave Recording Studio in Decatur, Ala., with producer Jeremy Stephens. Guitarist Heath Fogg joined the band after hearing the demo. Live sets were mixed with original material and covers by Zeppelin, James Brown, Otis Redding, AC/DC, and others.

* The band members worked day jobs that included mail carrier (Howard), veterinary assistant (Cockrell), house painter (Fogg), and nuclear plant worker (Johnson). An eponymous debut EP released in September 2011 earned Alabama Shakes some national media attention and an invitation to play at the CMJ Music Marathon in New York City.

* The gold-certified, full-length debut Boys & Girls was released in 2012 on ATO Records. The album peaked at No. 6 on the Billboard 200, has sold more than 725,000 copies to date, and earned Alabama Shakes three Grammy nominations in 2013 including Best New Artist, Best Rock Performance for the single ‘Hold On,’ and Best Recording Package for the Boys & Girls debut album.

* In the span of less than a year, Alabama Shakes went from virtual obscurity to playing venues such as the historic Ryman Auditorium in Nashville and the Troubadour in Los Angeles. The summer of 2012 was also marked by playing the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival and Newport Folk Festival.

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