|Articles, Arts, Audio, Media Archive, United States on 2015-04-16 17:10Z by Steven|
Ann Powers, NPR Music Critic
The Alabama Shakes’ new album, Sound & Color, comes out April 21.
Brantley Gutierrez/Courtesy of the artist
In the six years I’ve lived in the region, I’ve developed a mantra: Southern freaks are the best freaks. For me, the word “freak” can be both positive and downright spiritual. It describes serious individualists who are tolerant of others whose own paths may diverge from their own; people whose ways of thinking connect to form an antidote to the deep conventionality that often surrounds them. Southern freaks, like the four young musicians in Alabama Shakes, face multiple challenges: not only the love of tradition (and defensive attitude about it) that their neighbors nurture, but also the prejudices of those who live elsewhere and expect Southerners to be somehow limited by their native surroundings. Southern freaks are the best freaks because they have the resilience to flourish in a home that can feel foreign, while also recognizing that legacies can’t be simply processed. They must be lived, confronted and altered from within.
Brittany Howard expresses this more fancifully in “Gemini,” the first song the band recorded for its boundary-leaping second album, Sound & Color. “On a planet not so far away, we were born together,” she sings, maybe to her lost sister, a lover or a best friend, in a voice that contains shadows of Richmond, Virginia‘s son, D’Angelo. Howard’s imagined pair washes up in Athens, Alabama, “suckled on the honey of the Tennessee,” whose wet banks are both adorned with the flower whose name she’s playing with and rife with the snakes she mentions in the next verse. The dream Howard spins in “Gemini” could have come from the pen of South Carolina native Dorothy Allison. The thick, expansive bed of druggy funk the band creates to convey it recalls the deepest experiments of Denton, Texas, native Sly Stone. The resonance the band achieves with the help of producer Blake Mills turns the track into serious funk: something George Clinton, born in North Carolina and now living in Tallahassee, would enjoy…