Every time I’ve talked about the new Alabama Shakes album “Sound & Color”, I describe it as a headphone record. It sounds intricately crafted, yet chock full of raw emotion. They lost none of the passion and intensity of their beloved debut, instead they built it out further in the form of new sonic sculptures.
But the question becomes, how does a headphone record, with numerous slow jams, play out in a live show.
Well, if you’re the Alabama Shakes, exceptionally well.
Their sunset sets at Coachella were universally lauded and the winning musical moment of the weekend for many people.
You can tell they’re thrilled to be playing new material after years of touring behind “Boys and Girls” and it’s clear the audience – many who haven’t even heard the full record yet – are happy to make the leap with them and explore new ground.
They played KCRW’s Apogee Session series the night before their album release and the buzz in the room was powerful.
They launched into a ballad called “Miss You” to start the show. It began with just a guitar and Brittany Howard’s vocals and was stunning. They then did what they do best, heat it up to a boil and then down to a simmer and back up again. It gave me chills.
And by the time they got to “Future People“, a few songs in, they were really flaunting their full range as composers and musicians. It was powerful and you could feel the entire room respond in turn.
Brittany is ferocious and dynamic as a performer and guitar player (Sister Rosetta Tharpe is her inspiration), but it’s her jaw-dropping vocals that can prompt a near religious experience when listening to this band.
Despite their inherent and somewhat undisputed greatness, they are still the modest folk from Athens, Alabama we first met a few years ago.
Between songs, Brittany said thank you, followed by “I haven’t been to a concert in a really long time. I’m not sure if you say thank you after every song, but I mean it.”
She explained the song “This Feeling”, saying it’s deals with “learning about different ways of looking at situations and staying positive” before launching into their single “Give Me All Your Love”.
She hit the high pitched squeal that starts “Don’t Wanna Fight” and, while they did work four older songs into their set, it was their new work that was the most enthusiastically received – pretty much the best compliment a band can get!
The session was engineered by Bob Clearmountain and will air on Morning Becomes Eclectic on Monday, April 27.
**Special shoutout to the three backing vocalists who were phenomenal!
KCRW’s Apogee Sessions featuring Alabama Shakes
1. Miss You*
4. Future People*\
5. Guess Who*
7. The Greatest*
8. This Feeling*
9. Give Me All Your Love*
10. On Your Way
12. Don’t Wanna Fight*
13. You Ain’t Alone
14. Over My Head*
*Songs from the new album “Sound & Color”
***ALL PHOTOS BY DUSTIN DOWNING