If anything can be said about Brittany Howard, it’s this: she’s got plenty of soul. From her Grammy award-winning blues-rock outfit, Alabama shakes, to her rock-n-roll (and crassly named) side project, Thunderbitch, Howard has shown us her restless creativity and her show-stopping voice. On her new album, Jaime, a mixture of funky, jazzy sounds and a beloved vein of driven, soulful rock take center stage and once again reminds us of the breadth of Howard’s musical vision.
Howard wrote and produced all the music found on the album. Inspired by the good and the bad of the road trip she took across America with her partner, Howard poured a lot of emotion into this record. It resounds in every song. Be it anger, sadness, happiness, longing, or love, Howard pens it all. Jaime sounds like a musical spiral into what makes Brittany Howard tick. It’s deeply personal and stunning. The album is named after Howard’s sister, who passed away at 13 from a rare form of cancer, and a sense of remembrance hovers throughout the album. Jaime is an arresting and breathtaking album from Howard. She holds your attention and makes you see what she sees.
Here’s a quick look at each song:
A funk song, tinged with jazz inflections, that simmers with Howard’s personality. It’s sound almost betrays the message. “Don’t push me,” she sings over the warbling bass and guitar. It’s a brilliant intro that draws you in with a wall of sound.
He Loves Me
Here, by using synths to wrap her voice, Howard creates a song that vibrates her signature soul sound. She twists and turns through the song, singing about a lover who sticks by her, through all her vices and troubles.
A song filled with longing. Howard’s use of repetition is masterful, with each line dripping with feeling. This song is about a crush Howard had when she was younger, and the sentiment in the song is palpable.
Rather than a drug-induced high, Howard swirls in the clouds singing about the amazing feelings of finding the person with who you connect with. The entire song is taken at a high register, giving the song a dreamy and bright sheen.
A smooth, strutting song carried by the lilting guitar and drums. Howard questions why we keep talking about change happening tomorrow, but not changing how we are now. It’s a song that once again shows off Howard’s ear for melody and message.
Short and Sweet
My favorite song on the album, hands down. The production and instrumentation is skeletal, just the bare essentials to frame Howard’s aching, towering voice. “I may be a fool to dream of you,” she sings. “But God, it feels so good to dream at all.” A stunning piece of music and an honest gem from the album.
13th Century Metal
The absolute opposite of the previous song, 13th Century Metal is a frantic, energetic song with snarky guitars and synths, all topped off with a loudspeaker-esque chant for equality and freedom in the background. This is Howard at her most unflinching and direct.
On this, Howard goes full dive into the southern soul-rock she does so well. Pulling each note from her diaphragm, she sings and yowls her way through winding pianos and guitars, calling out a lover for failing her.
This song is like a personal analysis for Howard. She studies her biracial status — growing up with a white mother and a black father — analyzing herself in real-time through the music. It’s a beautiful song, with a deeply sad meaning, looking at race and those who would judge each other on such metrics.
With lush orchestration — strings, piano, synths, drums — and of course Howard’s vocals, which are like butter. The song is deceptively complex with the strings and drums laying the foundation of the song, and the piano and buzz-like synths playing atop. It’s beautiful and atmospheric in every way.
Run to Me
The production on this song is cavernous. It has such a Bowie or Elton John ballad feel to it. Howard’s voice echoes through the soundscape in a haunting and grand way. It’s a stunning closer to an equally stunning album.
I loved this album so much. I’ve been a fan of all of Howard’s work with Alabama Shakes and her other projects. To hear her create something so personal and share it with her audience is the mark of an artist to me. The production was impeccable, the lyrics were precise, and the subject matter was extremely relevant.
All in all, Jaime is wholly Brittany Howard. The album is many things: a letter to her beloved sister, a window into her history, and perhaps most of all, catharsis for Howard herself. In my opinion, I think Howard has created an instant classic, a musical work that will be looked back upon and used as inspiration.