Brittany Howard Draws Listeners In With 'Jaime', A Very Personal Solo Album

Oct 8, 2019
Originally published on October 11, 2019 8:13 am
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TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. Brittany Howard is well-known as the lead singer for the Grammy-winning band Alabama Shakes. In the last couple of years, the Shakes have been on a hiatus, and Howard has performed with a couple of other side project bands. But now she's released a solo album. It's called "Jaime," and rock critic Ken Tucker says it's a very personal project for her. Here's his review.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HISTORY REPEATS")

BRITTANY HOWARD: (Singing) I just don't want to be back in this place again. I mean, I done cried a little, tried a little, failed a little. I don't wanna do it again. Do you feel me? Yes, ma'am. Do you feel me? Yes, ma'am. Do you feel me? Yes, ma'am. Do you feel me? Yes, ma'am.

KEN TUCKER, BYLINE: Brittany Howard begins her new album, "Jaime," with that song called "History Repeats." It's a funky, slightly jazzy chunk of music that sounds almost improvised. The song signals to us that this is not going to be the sort of pop soul music that Howard's best-known band, the Alabama Shakes, made. As Howard sings, I don't want to do it again, she says I've already been. I came and went. And she adds, don't push me. This album is the sound of Brittany Howard pushing back.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SHORT AND SWEET")

HOWARD: (Singing) There are miles between us, time between us. There is something between us. I may be a fool to dream of you, but God it feels so good to dream at all. Something short and sweet there's always a light over my head for you. I am waiting. I am waiting. Time will always try to kill me.

TUCKER: The Jaime of the album title is Howard's sister, who died at age 13 when Brittany was just 8. In her memory, Jaime was a creative girl who is now a spirit that has moved her to make the passionate, personal music that fills this album. In a recent interview in The New York Times, Howard said, for me, this whole record is like, what do I want to listen to? What do I want to hear? That's the whole point. It's not made for anybody else. But in a sense, she's wrong. This isn't selfish music or self-absorbed in any way. It opens outward and draws listeners in.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GEORGIA")

HOWARD: (Singing) I just want Georgia to notice me. I just want Georgia to notice me. I just want Georgia to notice me. I just want Georgia. Georgia, see you don't know it, but I'm afraid to tell you how I really feel or show you what I really mean when I'm saying hello or how I feel to watch you come and go. I just want Georgia to notice me.

TUCKER: That's "Georgia," a song about a crush Howard had as a kid. Autobiography mixes easily into this album. She writes a song called "Goat Head" about a racist incident that happened to her black father and white mother when Brittany was a child. Another song called "Stay High" is less about ecstasy in a druggie sense than in an emotional high achieved by a meeting of minds and bodies.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "STAY HIGH")

HOWARD: (Singing) I already feel like doing it again, honey, 'cause once you know, then you know. And you don't want to go back to wherever it is that you come from, yeah. I just want to stay high with you. 'Cause where I come from...

TUCKER: Brittany Howard's vocal on that piece is high in register. It reminds me of Curtis Mayfield's falsetto. At other points, this album carries echoes of Sly Stone's "There's A Riot Goin' On" album, of D'Angelo's album "Voodoo" and in Howard's prickliness and willful eccentricity, it reminds me of underrated Joni Mitchell albums like "Night Ride Home" and "Turbulent Indigo." But most of all, it's a Brittany Howard album, something we haven't heard before. The experience of "Jaime" is like discovering an artist all over again.

GROSS: Rock critic Ken Tucker reviewed Brittany Howard's solo album called "Jaime." Tomorrow on FRESH AIR, we'll talk about how the same organization that fueled conspiracy theories about the Clintons in 2016 is behind the discredited story involving Joe Biden and his son's work in Ukraine. The organization was founded by Steve Bannon. Our guest will be Joshua Green, a reporter for Bloomberg Businessweek, who also wrote a book about Steve Bannon and his role in the Trump campaign called "Devil's Bargain." I hope you'll join us.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BABY")

HOWARD: Yeah. This is the check one, two, the check three, four. You know who it is. You see (singing) I try to be anything you'd ever want, you'll ever want, you'll ever would ask me to be, baby. Baby, how could you call me your babe? You don't provide for me. You don't ride for me. You don't - no, you don't. How could you call me your babe? I tried to do everything you asked me to. I never thought...

GROSS: FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, Ann Marie Baldonado, Therese Madden, Mooj Zadie, Seth Kelley and Joel Wolfram. I'm Terry Gross.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BABY")

HOWARD: (Singing) I guess that's what I get for being so quality, babe. Baby, baby... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.