More about: Brittany Howard
Feeling that life was starting to become monotonous, Brittany Howard – frontwoman of Alabama Shakes – decided that something needed to be done. Rather than following up the success of the band's 2015 album Sound & Color, Howard decided to take a step back to listen to what her inner voice had to say.
At the cusp of turning 30, and exploring confidence within herself, this led Howard – who describes herself as pretty candid – to gain the perspective on where she saw her future. Seeing this as the perfect time to tell the stories that have shaped her as a human being, Howard felt that taking full creative control was imperative to ensure the project would fulfil her needs, and to shake the cobwebs from her life. Jaime is a tribute to Howard's sister who died at the age of 13 from a form of eye cancer. Jaime helped shape Howard by stimulating her interest in music and other creative art forms. Whilst the title is eponymous with her sister, the stories on the album are all about Howard. Growing up as a mixed-race child in Alabama was never going to be easy. What transpires throughout the album is a journey of redemption and acceptance for things you cannot and could never change.
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A tumultuous mix of experimental jazz, psychedelic-infused guitar licks, and a vibrant array of warm tones seep through elements of bass guitar and synth – Jaime is sensational in its depiction of female sexuality, overcoming religious guilt and understanding comeuppance. 'Georgia' is a number that oozes with the sultriness of neo-soul as Howard talks us through early experiences of having a crush on another female: "I just want Georgia to notice me [...] I can't help how I was born to be, I ain't no little boy." At the heart of the album is a deep understanding of love. How to give it to yourself; how to receive it; and how to disarm yourself when it is something that you are being denied.
It's the way Howard talks about love from multiple perspectives, which makes Jaime all the more entrancing. The yearning of Howard’s voice in ‘Run To Me’ really tugs at your emotions, as she poetically describes being the sole comforter for someone: “there’s no weapon against this loneliness except my loving arms.” Alabama is the second-most religious state in the US, so it feels as though Howard is making peace with herself in 'He Loves Me'. She explains that God's love is eternal whether you have bad habits or not: "I know he loves me when I'm smoking blunts, he loves me when I'm drinking too much." Between the verses are snippets from a sermon where the preacher explains that as long as you have no cares in the world, you'll have a long and happy life.
'Stay High' is a nod to this mindset of not worrying about what other people are doing. A tinkering xylophone adds to this air of youthful carelessness. Howard's vocals are fluid, fleeting between breathy accentuation and silky vibrato. This carries through to the dreamy acoustic serenading of 'Short and Sweet'. Time is a concept that no longer haunts Howard, and now she knows the moments that are most enjoyable: "I only want the beginning, we’ll give each other our best, time can do what it wants with it." The complete surrender to things that are out of your control is only something that can be developed over time, and when you’re left to your own devices. This is something that Howard understands all too well.
Amidst the distinguished creativity between love songs, are powerful moments like the staccato synth soundscape of ‘13th Century Metal’ with its crackly static and spoken word manifesto, and what is certainly a poignant subject tackled with ease and grace. ‘Goat Head’ is wrapped up in what feels like a rejuvenated new-age crossover between soul and trap music. Birthed from a story that Howard’s parents denied telling her from some time about someone slashing her father’s tires and putting a goat head in the back of the car. The song is an exploration of growing up as a mixed-race child and watching your parents go through prejudices - “mama was brave to take me outside, ’cause mama is white and daddy is black”.
Jaime is a perfectly eloquent anecdote of a person who has been through a multitude of hardships in their life. Whilst it’s been a shame that things have been put on hold for Alabama Shakes, experiencing Howard as a solo artist more than makes up for the absence.
Jaime is released on 20 September 2019 via Columbia Records.
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More about: Brittany Howard