TEST SPIN: Alabama Shakes—Sound & Color

We learned that Alabama Shakes knew how to play Memphis soul and southern blues rock — and play it well — on their 2012 debut, Boys & Girls. We learned frontwoman Brittany Howard had a tour-de-force, hurricane of a voice and we learned that these kids from Nowhere, Alabama had a gritty, aw-shucks charisma and an old-soul-meets-modern-rock sound that earned them gushing accolades and a Grammy in the same year. It was unclear, however, whether the fledgling group would find a coherence beyond the gorgeous shock value of Howard’s shrieks and croons and the novelty of a niche throwback sound in this musical climate. Their latest release, Sound & Color, seems to settle this question; Alabama Shakes are more than niche; they are more than a novelty. The album shimmies between decades and genres, sampling from soul, groove-rock, gospel, blues, punk, electric rock, bluegrass and folk; embracing motifs and honoring the traditions that so evidently inform their sound from each genre, but executing their own creative, and exciting forms of them.