Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on Google+ Share on Reddit Share on Pinterest Share on Linkedin Share on Tumblr In a culture very slowly moving away from the tired rock traditions of decades past, Alabama Shakes does well for itself as one of the few fresh, authentic voices still putting out vintage blues rock. Rockists are still a huge market, even more insular and stubborn as they become an endangered species, which explains why Alabama Shakes has risen so rapidly in the public eye after its 2012 debut album Boys & Girls. With the band’s sophomore release Sound & Color, they’re smart to change as little as possible, playing off of a Rolling Stone-reading, quietly conservative baby boomer market that fears cultural and social change, but as a genuine, vibrant young band, they’re forced to evolve in some ways. What results is not some tumultuous, complicated work that finds vitality in the balance between traditional rock values and a need to progress, but instead a subtly dynamic record that sorts through those issues in the least controversial way possible. If that seems like a cop-out, it very well might be; the band certainly won’t alienate their base, at the very least. Alabama Shakes looks to expand on Sound & Color. The conventional Southern blues rock with which the band debuted still overwhelmingly informs their music, but they show a willingness to embrace more experimental moves, even if their progression comes a bit slow. Ironically, their best attempts at change come when they still retain one or two of their charming and accessible qualities, as with the groovy guitar interplay on “Future People,” or with Brittany Howard’s passionate, soulful singing, best represented here by ballads like “Gimme All Your Love” and “Miss You.” These songs find the band testing out different musical nuances under the guise of familiarity, and, to their credit, the results, while shallow at times, are mostly satisfying. For the most part, Alabama Shakes does a good job of emphasizing these elements — the things that separate them from other vintage rock acts with a similar approach — but in a style that’s been so thoroughly mined over the last half century, there’s too little they can do to keep things fresh. “The Greatest,” with Howard’s deep Southern drawl and uptempo, twangy guitar, sounds impossibly close to early Kings of Leon (the sound wasn’t exactly original in 2003, either), but the song, by virtue of being a satisfying respite from the many crawling bluesy ballads on the record, still manages to come out a highlight. The curiously-titled, country fried “Shoegaze” works with alt-country conventions, but its poignant tone and upbeat riffs provide an interesting contrast together that helps overcome the typicality. Sound & Color neatly summarizes Alabama Shakes’ approach that way: taking the tried and true values of rock and shaping them to their particular abilities. Still, there are some genuine offbeat moments on the record. The droning “Gemini,” while not a particularly inventive or attention-grabbing track, is dissimilar enough to separate it from Sound & Color’s more traditional fare with its searing bursts of guitar and spaced-out organ and vibraphone verses, while the album’s title track widens the band’s sonic palette with a vibraphone lead that merges Howard’s soul with a retro pop flavor. These are small steps, to be sure, but they go a long way in broadening Alabama Shakes’ cripplingly narrow style, and when taken with the rock conventions, Sound & Color becomes surprisingly well-rounded. Unfortunately, there’s nothing exceptional about Alabama Shakes’ lonely night ballads and raucous barnburners, but they charm all the same. In service of their rising public profile, Alabama Shakes take no big risks and suffer no big mistakes on Sound & Color, but they still don’t seem to be pandering to their rock-loyal audience, either. Sound & Color is simply an authentic rock album, engaging precisely for how straightforward it is.