Alabama Shakes frontwoman Brittany Howard has a new solo debut album, “Jaime.” (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Alabama Shakes frontwoman Brittany Howard has a new solo debut album, “Jaime.” (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Brittany Howard turns solo debut into a personal manifesto

“Jaime” breaks ground sonically and lyrically. It’s personal and daring, with a rules-are-meant-to-be-broken twist.

  • Tuesday, September 24, 2019 1:30am
  • Life

Brittany Howard, “Jaime”: Brittany Howard’s ascent as the powerhouse singer-guitarist and driving force in the band Alabama Shakes appeared to be a dream-come-true scenario. She struggled for years to forge her identity in a nearly forgotten corner of northern Alabama, then released two best-selling albums in a row with the Shakes. Yet despite the acclaim that greeted the garage-rock-meets-soul testifying of “Boys & Girls” (2012) and the more expansive “Sound & Color” (2015), Howard felt something was lacking.

Her solo debut, “Jaime” (ATO), breaks ground sonically and lyrically. It’s both more personal and daring, steeped in ’60s and ’70s soul-funk-R&B but with a rules-are-meant-to-be-broken twist. She often treats her voice like an instrument, unafraid to smudge or even bury it in a stew of avant-noise and psychedelic textures that make it difficult to pinpoint exactly what is making a particular sound: is that keyboard, a guitar, a field recording, a distorted vocal or some combination of all of the above?

On the opening “History Repeats,” Howard states her intent to run free over a crossfire of percussion and funk-guitar accents: “I came and went/ I washed my hands with it/ I don’t wanna do it again.”

She animates a childhood crush for another girl in the yearning ballad “Georgia,” explores her relationship with God (it’s complicated) on “He Loves Me” and, most strikingly of all, describes the hardships of growing up biracial in the rural South on the harrowing “Goat Head”: “Who slashed my dad’s tires and put a goat head in the back?”

The arrangements are just as bold, and occasionally disorienting. On the deceptively languid “Tomorrow,” the dreamy vocals give way to an urgently funky call-and-response section that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on a Parliament-Funkadelic jam. On “Baby,” her wailing multi-tracked vocals serve as a backdrop for the bumping bass and skittering keyboards. On “Short and Sweet,” her idiosyncratic phrasing, rapturous tone and stripped-down vulnerability conjure Nina Simone. “Run to Me” folds its message of reassurance inside an ominous, reverberating soundscape, Howard’s voice nearly unrecognizable until it bursts into an operatic declaration: “I will be your partner when you can’t stand it anymore.”

The track’s disquieting beauty — worthy of a David Lynch soundtrack — counterpoints the unlikely anthem “13th Century Metal.” Over twitchy Morse-code keyboards and chaotic drums, Howard lays out a social contract of sorts for the “brothers and sisters” with whom she shares the planet. But it’s not larded with “we are the world” platitudes. Instead, as with much of this revelatory album, it’s also personal. “Just try and do the best you can today,” Howard reminds herself. “No matter where you’ve been.”

— Greg Kot, Chicago Tribune

Talk to us

More in Life

Jeff Daniels
Actor Jeff Daniels also knows his way around the blues guitar

The Edmonds Center for the Arts will present a streaming concert by Daniels on Jan. 15.

Freezer-to-table recipes — plus a little help from the kids — makes putting dinner on the table easy. (Jennifer Bardsley)
When families cook together, dinner is ready in a flash

Here’s how you, too, can assemble 14 freezer-to-table recipes in four hours for two weeks of easy meals.

Dr. Paul on making a habit of expressing your appreciation

It can be as easy as putting a sticky note out to remind yourself be on the lookout for a job well done.

Artists Amber and Alex Vincini sit by examples of their artwork outside their studio on Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2020 in Everett, Washington.  (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
CARES Act grant helps artists be creative — and pay the rent

The money allows Everett’s Schack Art Center to hire artists and art educators.

When harvesting an Asian pear, the best method is to taste. Asian pears will ripen on the tree. (Getty Images)
Fruit trees 101: A gardener’s CliffsNotes for growing them

If you have any interest in growing your own fruit, it’s prime time to pick up apples, plums, cherries and pears.

Scherenschnitte is a special type of German paper cutting art, and old and new examples are both seen at auctions. This modern example sold for just $40. (Cowles Syndicate Inc.)
G.B. French made this scherenschnitte in the 20th century

The Kovels were surprised French’s paper cutting art was at auction, when artwork from the 1800s is more popular.

"Diane" witch hazel produces dark copper-red flowers in winter, providing quite a show against its bare branches. (Richie Steffen)
Great Plant Pick: Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Diane,’ Diane witch hazel

“Diane” witch hazel produces dark copper-red flowers in winter, providing quite a show against its bare branches.

Shylah Hallam-Noel left, a worker at Queen Anne Healthcare, a skilled nursing and rehabilitation facility in Seattle, receives the second shot of the Pfizer vaccination for COVID-19, Friday, Jan. 8, 2021, from a Walgreens Pharmacist, right. The facility had an outbreak of COVID-19 in May of 2020 that resulted in more than 100 positive cases among staff and residents, including Allen, and the deaths of 20 residents and two staff members. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
The tricky road to herd immunity, explained

Three researchers who study the spread of infectious disease offer a reality check on how far we’ve come — and how far we have to go.

Photo by Wes Anthony/Firehouse Creative
Lead actress Shannyn Sossamon talks with filmmakers Andrew Morehouse,center, and Nate
Bell while filming “The Hour After Westerly” at the Fort Casey Inn.
Watch film featuring Whidbey Island for free through Jan. 16

The “Twilight Zone”-esque “The Hour After Westerly” is based on a short story by Robert M. Coates.

Most Read