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Friday, March 11, 2016

Sound & Color

This year I'm trying something new: listening to Grammy Award-winning albums in the categories that many people don't pay attention to. The big winners this year were Taylor Swift, for her album 1989, and I don't need to listen to that, because I know myself and there's no way I could take Taylor Swift seriously. Kendrick Lamar won all the rap categories, but try as I might, I can't get into that kind of music.

I already owned of the winners, Alabama Shakes Sound & Color, which won the Best Alternative Album category. I'm not sure what "alternative" means any more. It used to mean rock music that was not "classic" rock or punk rock or any other definable classification, but then became basically just rock music made after 1980.

But alternative suits Alabama Shakes because there's just no defining this sound. It's bluesy, it's at times jazzy, it's based on roots music, and it's for a more sophisticated ear--there's no "yeah, yeah, yeahs" here. It's rock music for adults--if a kid likes this sign him or her up to be a rock critic.

What Alabama Shakes' sound is most about is the voice of Brittany Howard. She sings lead on all the songs (as well as writing all the lyrics) and if there's anything identifiable about the group, it's her. But, of course, her voice is like a chameleon, sounding different on almost every track. She has an androgynous voice, so at times she's reminiscent of Janis Joplin, other times Smokey Robinson. She has a tattoo of the state of Alabama on her arm and there's more of that in her voice, as it can be gritty and dirty, but also purely beautiful. On "Guess Who" her voice is playful, seductive, while in "The Greatest" she lets rip with a guttural rock snarl.

Musically, the group lays down some nice riffs, such as Howard's guitar work on "Don't Wanna Fight," which also won a Grammy, and a great hook on "Shoegaze" Lyrically, most of the album is full of songs of love, both won and lost, but I think my favorite pair of lines are on "Miss You," when Howard, with a wistful twinkle in her voice, sings "I'm going to miss you, and you Mickey Mouse tattoo, and you'll be leaving in your Honda Accord, is that true?"

Alabama Shakes make rock music for people who thought rock music had ceased to be made anymore. No greasy kid stuff here.

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