As the frontwoman and guitarist for Alabama Shakes, Brittany Howard has become one of music's most celebrated figures. The band has won four GRAMMY Awards and topped the Billboard 200 with the Gold-certified Sound & Color, the follow-up to its Platinum debut album, Boys & Girls. Howard has performed everywhere from the Obama White House to the main stage at Lollapalooza, where she sang with Paul McCartney at his invitation. In between albums and tours with Alabama Shakes, Howard grows restless. "To me, there is no time off I'm a creative person and I need to create, or I just feel weird, not fully human," she says. She's channeled that relentless creativity into Jaime, her most revelatory work yet.
Jaime sounds looser and more eclectic than anything in Howard's discography, from the Shakes' two Top 10 albums to her current side projects, the country-tinged trio Bermuda Triangle and her too-tough rock band Thunderbitch. Here she worked with her longtime bandmate Zac Cockrell on bass, jazz drummer Nate Smith, and pianist Robert Glasper, whose work splits the difference between jazz, hip-hop, and modern R&B. The players help to conjure Prince, D'Angelo, and Roots-like sensibilities in places on the record, but it is all Howard's handiworka combination of classic songwriting, left-turn instincts, and staggering vocal performancesthat brings the swirling musical collage to life.
Howard obviously has many musical influences. She doesn't just listen to a lot of different things, but she's also able to write fluently in different genres. What anchors this album is Howard's voice, and the way it can scurry from a lower register into a soaring falsetto in the time it takes a hi-hat to open up. Her distinctive vocal timbre is the twine that keeps Jamie wrapped-up tight. Not many artists can make loops and electronic sounds feel authentic, but Howard is more than able to keep them feeling warm and natural.
Any discussion of Ms. Howard's music has to start with her voice, an instrument of rare power and authority. It's impossible to hear it without thinking of earlier vocalists: When singing in her lower register, she channels the heavy seriousness of Nina Simone, and when she sings high, she touches on the angelic lightness of Curtis Mayfield. These are lofty comparisons, but Ms. Howard has earned them.
These are songs that draw the ear into their slow rhythms, only to disrupt and rearrange themselves; that build melodies like vines growing, turning and knotting into loops, getting tangled as they move toward sun. They tell stories of desire with names like 'Stay High,' unorthodox faith through declarations like 'He Loves Me' and family history by facing painful memories (in 'Goat Head,' the stench of racism permeates). Yet following her own perspective, Howard turns confession on its head. To realize her songs' deceptively plainspoken complexity, Howard and producer Shawn Everett brought together jazz disruptors Nate Smith on drums and Robert Glasper on keys, alongside her old bandmate and musical anchor, bassist Zac Cockrell. They took chances. They got psychedelic, locked into heavy funk, slid into classic R&B and then cleared space for Howard to be lonely, like the blues chanteuse she also can be. This album is a radical act of self-claiming, one that does more than reintroduce a great 21st Century voice. It turns a broken circle into an open road.
- Sandstone Colored Vinyl
- Single record jacket with emboss
- Colored inner-sleeve
- Limited time digital download
- History Repeats
- He Loves Me
- Stay High
- Short & Sweet
- 13th Century Metal
- Goat Head
- Run To Me