Alabama Shakes frontwomen makes her solo debut
Originally hailing from Athens, Alabama, Brittany Howard has been playing music her whole life. She rose to prominence as the frontwoman for rootsy rock band Alabama Shakes. With her massive, Robert Plant-esque vocal delivery, Alabama Shakes quickly became a can’t-miss band in the rock scene. A group whose sophomore album, 2015’s Sound & Color, topped the Billboard 200.
Despite these accolades, when Howard turned 30 last year, she began to question her life up to that point. Ultimately deciding she wanted to be known for something more than just Alabama Shakes, she began to write newer, more personal songs about her childhood and values. She assembled a band consisting of well-known jazz keyboardist Robert Glasper, her Alabama Shakes bandmate Zac Cockrell on bass and Nate Smith on drums. With their help, Howard’s songs reached their full potential, and are now assembled into a solo album titled Jaime, after her sister who died of cancer when she was a teenager.
It’s very apparent early on in Jaime that this is not just an extension of Alabama Shakes. Whereas that sound was largely rooted in old school rock ‘n’ roll, Howard’s solo work is much more eclectic. Glasper’s jazz roots play a big part in the sound transformation, as the chord progressions are more unorthodox than one would expect. Howard’s vocals are a big change though. Her powerful belt is reduced to only a few moments: just as her songwriting has moved in a gentler direction, her voice has too.
As previously stated, the stylistic mélange is impressive. “Georgia” is an R&B slow jam that kicks into gospel near the end, while ‘Tomorrow” goes from jazz and hip-hop to EDM at the end. Other standouts include “He Loves Me,” a sweet ballad celebrating loving someone for all their flaws, the fuzzed-out “13th Century Metal,” and the funky opener “History Repeats.”
The lyrical content is what really makes the album tick. Howard details her upbringing as a mixed-race child in the South, losing the sister who taught her how to play music to cancer and learning how to love oneself and that ultimately is what pushes this album over the bar.