“Shoegaze”, Sound and Color, Alabama Shakes

It wasn’t too long ago when Alabama Shakes crashed onto the scene with their Stax Records sound that was perfectly pressed onto their EP like a diamond in the rough lost amongst some O.V. Wright 45s.  It was perfect timing, as the whole retro-rock movement was at its peak, running the gamut from acts like Mumford & Suns to Dr. Dog. 

But, and thankfully so, that was never meant to be the full picture. Brittany Howard and company weren’t a band that could be considered a trope, they never wanted to be pigeonholed into the revivalist scene.  In that sense, Sound and Color is less of a jump forward, and more of a realization of what this band is capable of.

That isn’t to say there aren’t touches of the retro sound that brought them to the fore, first single “Don’t Want To Fight” is chock full of reference, but this time the 60s soul has been traded in for an updated take on James Brown and Bee Gees falsetto hooks.  

But, by and large, the production is the greatest difference here full of, well, sound and color.  There’s a lot to love here, but one of my favorite tracks of the moment is “Shoegaze” which bolsters the back end of the album.  

Blake Mills helmed the production mantle on this record and the nooks on this song are full of nifty dynamic changes and deft instrumentation. Ben Tanner’s organ gets so much out of just a one note hook in this arrangement, enough to provide a highlight in a song that boasts some great guitar work.  Elsewhere Steve Johnson’s drumming weaves in and out of Howard’s vocal, going from classic soul snare build-up to CCR’s “Suzie Q”-esque tom fills with aplomb. 

Shoegaze – Alabama Shakes

You’re gonna want to listen to this song with a pair of headphones or good speakers, it’s worth the time.

Alabama Shakes literally burst onto the music scene in 2011 and are now headed to release their debut album in April under ATO Records. Boys & Girls features Brittany Howard and co. playing some solid soul grooves with Janis Joplin meets Otis Redding vocals that ache more than you could expect from a woman in her young 20’s.  It’s sure to be one of the best albums of 2012, but for now enjoy the stellar live cut “Always Alright” which (somehow) didn’t make the album. 

Always Alright- Alabama Shakes (Live From San Francisco’s Independent) 

Talkin’ Turkey: A Mixtape

Just in time for everybody to tuck in to the most lazy and food filled day of the year. As always the tracks are all free downloads, but support these wonderful artists if you can.

Man Who Lives Forever (Rollo & Grady Session)- Lord Huron

Lord Huron has been a band that is constantly defying my expectations, they’re due out for a well deserved full length album this coming year and if Man Who Lives Forever is any indication of where their sound is going, look for them to be all over the indie airwaves next year.

Man Who Lives Forever- Lord Huron

Song to Sing When I’m Lonely- John Frusciante

Possibly the greatest talent to emerge from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, John Frusciante has shown that he’s no one trick pony and a masterful songwriter in his own right, Song To Sing When I’m Lonely is one of my favorites, starting with a melody right out of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

Song To Sing When I’m Lonely- John Frusciante

Fletcher- Blitzen Trapper

Blitzen Trapper have the new Americana sound locked down on their most recent full length, American Goldwing. Think of it as Wilco with a little more drawl and optimism.  Not many bands these days can write a narrative as compelling as this Portland group.

Fletcher- Blitzen Trapper

Coeur D’Alene- The Head and The Heart

Critics of The Head and the Heart stated that their debut album was filled with derivative sounds of Americana, on “Coeur D’Alene”  all they can note is a perfectly crafted pop song.

Coeur D’Alene- The Head and The Heart

I Stopped Missing You Today- Stone Darlings

Stone Darling is an all-girl group that single-handedly defies the label.

I Stopped Missing You Today- Stone Darling

More Than Muscle- Luke Temple

Quite possibly my favorite song of 2011 with its off-kilter rhythms and technicolor arrangements, Temple lures you in with the first few notes and by the time his charming lilt comes into the fore there’s no letting go.

More than Muscle- Luke Temple

Handwriting- White Denim

White Denim is one of those bands that can make prodigious skill seem par for the course for their songwriting, “Handwriting” being an intriguing guitar run through that makes you wonder how they’re playing what they’re playing and can still mold it into a conventional song form.  The pedal steel puts a nice touch.

Handwriting- White Denim

Freeze Out- Snorri Helgason

If not the best thing to come out of Iceland, by far he is the most underrated. Sure his name might never be commonplace in pop music but he is as well deserving as any singer-songwriter out there right now.

Freeze Out- Snorri Helgason

The Only Way- Gotye

Gotye shows the creative intensity that we used to expect out of Beck, but this Australian troubadour proves his equal and more through his clever approach at arrangements and his chameleon vocals.

The Only Way- Gotye

Livin’ In The Jungle- Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears

Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears seem intent on bringing R&B back to what it once was, the hard propulsive blues that brought the Black Keys into prominence with Brothers only with more of a funky kick and a wicked horn section.

Livin’ in the Jungle – Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears

I’ll Walk Away- James Hunter

James Hunter wowed Van Morrison with his debut Believe What I Say even getting the man himself to duet on a couple tracks with him, if Sam Cooke had managed to live to old age this croon might be what we were in for.

I`ll Walk Away- James Hunter

Million Dollar Bill- Dawes

When it hits me that she’s gone/  I think i’ll run for president/ Get my face put on the million dollar bill/ So when these rich men that she wants/ Show her ways they can’t take care of her/ I’ll have found a way to be there with her still

Within the opening of “Million Dollar Bill” Taylor Goldsmith managed to portray the sadness, jealousy, and ultimately love that’s still present when your lover has left you. Proof why he’s one of the greatest songwriters of his generation.

Million Dollar Bill- Dawes

I Found You- Alabama Shakes

Otis Redding reincarnated in girl form, no other description should be necessary.

I Found You- Alabama Shakes

Soulless- Fake Problems

Who said people couldn’t write upbeat rock songs anymore.

Soulless- Fake Problems

Big Man- Boy & Bear

It wouldn’t be the farthest stretch to compare this band with Mumford & Sons, but that would greatly undermine the talent present in this group, the lyrics and vocals alone on this song should guarantee them recognition for album of the year (and yes, the rest of the album is fine too).

Big Man- Boy & Bear
From The Start- Tiger Waves

For the acoustic guitars and the rolling drum fills that propel this song along and the endearing harmonies that go along with it. Who couldn’t like a band called Tiger Waves? And you call yourselves American.

From The Start- Tiger Waves

The Understanding- Jones Street Station

No matter how many incarnations there was and will always be of tight harmonies and acoustic fingerpicking, it will always sound good, and Jones Street Station isn’t about to change that. But they certainly liven the arrangement up to great success.

The Understanding- Jones Street Station

Mighty- Lord Huron

The yearning for discovery and the search for happiness and the unknown all bottled up into one song, but it’s more than a song, it’s a whole world.

Mighty- Lord Huron