President Obama’s musical opinion is as well respected as some of his policies. Al Green; Jay Z; Alabama Shakes. His taste is leaps and bounds ahead of the likes of David Cameron, Francois Hollande and Angela Merkel; although there are rumours of a Shine 2009 affection for all three. Saturday night Manchester welcomed the latter. Renowned for their instinctive fusion of Americana and Blues, Alabama Shakes brought their latest album ‘Sound & Color’ to life at the Apollo Theatre.
Within their lead singer/guitarist Brittany Howard, Alabama Shakes obtain the most compelling blues vocalist of recent times. Her ceaseless desire to challenge the restrictions of her voice unsurpassed anything else within the contemporary Americana scene. ‘Gimme All Your Love’ – epitomised by the group’s intensifying unity, stabbing through the opening phrases of the verse to harshening effect, the song climaxed with an incredibly damning passage of blues madness that completely changed the rhythmic sensibilities of the tune – saw Howard’s voice shift from seductive, meandering songstress to ardent Janis Joplin fueled explosions of gravelly power. ‘The Greatest’ was a punk fueled affair; her temper enraged against the distortion coloured guitars, slipping smoothly between the anarchy and mini-bursts of 60s psychedlia before it concludes with a Velvet Underground-worthy mass of rhythms. ‘Dunes’ – the simmering ambience concucted duly fornicating with the red illuminations engulfing the stage, shaded only by Heath Fogg’s guitar – demonstrated Howard’s vocal latitude further; the backing chorus of vocalists generating an insatiable collage that allowed the 25 year old space to softly lose herself within her melodies.
Understandably Howard formed the band’s enduring allure. But the entourage are well-versed within the stylingins of the Southern Rock sound at the crux of Alabama Shakes. Their first album ‘Boys & Girls’ – containing ‘Heartbreaker’, the organ stampeding against the preacher styled murmurs of Howard, and ‘Hang Loose’, more driven with a dance themed aura emitting against the carefree beginnings set at first – explored a loose environment; providing a conflicting setting to the more experiment tone of their follow-up ‘Sound & Color’. Tracks such as ‘Gemini’ – almost James Blake fashioned through its warped electronics hidden behind the contorted piano and bass landscape allowing Howard and her choir to produce moments of geniune menance – and ‘Shoegaze’ collocated this with a typical folk meets bluegrass temper; further advancing the genres upon which Alabama Shakes consume.
Their true statement of their progression laid with ‘Don’t Wanna Fight No More’. Combining the summer touched grooves from a Foster the Kids festival anthem, it creates an atmosphere of ease as frequently as the melody instantly relapses back into the common conciseousness. It’s a track that not only exposes Alabama Shakes’ pop sensibilities but a number that will no doubt become a mainstay and beatnik hymn throughout America and Britain.
There was shuffling from the group; the light however fell with the mesmirising Howard. Her fierce voice – never has something so rich, yet raw been experienced live by this reviewer – coupled with her endearing onstage persona left Manchester humbled.
There was no room for ‘Hold On’ – such is the experience of their new album. But this left the night unaffected. ‘Sound & Color’ unifies an audience with such ease it could have easily been as enriching if it was released as their debut.
Words by Clive K Hammond