On their 2012 debut Boys & Girls, Alabama Shakes never hid that they were creatures of the New South -- a band with old-fashioned blues, soul, gospel, and country in their blood but raised on modern rock. On their 2015 follow-up, Sound & Color, they free themselves from the vestiges of the past, let loose, and push themselves further in either direction. This could've resulted in a disjointed record pulling itself in two opposing directions, but the mess of Sound & Color is invigorating, likely because the album uses its title as a creed. Where Boys & Girls sometimes seemed a shade austere -- the band took pains to color within the lines, almost as if to convey their good taste -- Sound & Color bursts with oversaturated hues so vivid they seem almost tangible. Such deep digressions into shade and light accentuate both the group's roots and modernity, but the very fact that they chase after such bold, elastic sounds signals they're hardly a throwback. Plus, the group's attack is muscular here: there's a strong, boundless funk to "Don't Wanna Fight," but there's a similar power behind the slow-churning soul ballad "Gimme All Your Love." Often, Sound & Color takes flight when Alabama Shakes channel that energy into ever-shifting, liquid performances that almost feel like roots psychedelia, typified by "Future People" skipping off its tight Memphis groove with spooky harmonies and thudding fuzz. Such unaffected weird flourishes are evidence that Alabama Shakes are creatures of their time and place -- they play Southern soul-rock in an era where the past is indistinguishable from the present, and how the band interlaces the old and the new on Sound & Color feels startlingly fresh.
© Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo