Album review: “Jaimie” presents Brittany Howard at her most powerful, singing for us all
Music and Society Editor
The mold of lead singers breaking from their respective bands to pursue solo careers is not a new phenomenon. Often times, the resulting music is a bland cash grab with a name attached, fading into obscurity outside of the playlists of super fans. For some, however, going solo means an artistic revival, unlocking the inner-most reaches of creativity in the individual. The aimlessness and pressure of creating as an individual leaves musicians in unstructured space, able to pursue and explore any compelling avenue.
Brittany Howard is a perfect example of what can happen when an artist challenges themself by taking a chance to do what feels authentic.
Her solo debut, “Jaimie,” shows the Alabama Shakes lead singer and guitarist at her absolute peak. A Grammy award winning singer-songwriter and prolific musician who performs in the bands Thunderbitch and Bermuda Triangle along with the Shakes, she never ceases to convey attitude, individuality and inventiveness while pushing the very boundaries of genre.
Listening to “Jaimie” feels like a history lesson. It’s a love letter to the flawed world in which Howard exists and the music that has informed her. Across the eleven tracks, Howard attempts to pinpoint what has defined her as a mixed individual, a woman, a queer, a Christian, a Southerner and an American, authoring a soulful portrait of herself as a vibrant and compelling figure in the music industry. The levity of her words is matched by the power of her voice that swoops and soars with unmatchable range.
Howard begins her personal exploration with the song “He Loves Me,” reflecting on her devotional status. This religious anthem recognizes the ever-present love of God that sticks with her regardless of her poor behavior.
Howard’s voice skyrockets in the proclamation, “I don’t need forgiving,” sung with a chill-inducing guitar line. Gigantic drums and phat bass weave in and out of devotional spoken-word samples, adding further sonic levity to her modern gospel.
“Georgia” is a bashful R&B ballad chronicling the lightness of unrequited adolescent love. Howard transports herself back in time to when she was fantasizing about an older girl and grappling with confused feelings of attraction.
A beautiful organ outro, synthesize and snare, kick drum soar to unimaginable heights of sonic jubilation and power as she comes into her own sexuality, singing, “Is it unnatural? / Georgia, is it cool? / I wanna tell you that I love you.”
Bringing herself to the present day, Howard owns her love and expresses pure thankfulness to the woman she is in a relationship with on “Stay High.” An acoustic guitar, plunky toy piano and galloping drums set the sunny tone to match the lyrics about joyfully existing and exploring life with another person. The beautiful sentiment of staying high on emotion and closeness with a partner radiates infectious positivity. “Presence” also makes contented note of and shows appreciation for where Howard is at currently and the key players in her life.
The stand out song on the album is the lyrically and sonically shocking, “Goat Head.” With a hip-hop inspired beat, Howard delivers a deeply personal reflection about being a mixed-race female growing up in the south as an Alabama native. The anxiety and unrest she experienced is mirrored in the way that the cymbals rapidly tap and dissonant piano chords pair with her high, soul-inspired vocal delivery.
She searingly questions an act of racism perpetrated against her family asking, “Who slashed my dad’s tires and put a goat head in the back? / I guess I wasn’t s’posed to know that, too bad / I guess I’m not ‘posed to mind ‘cause I’m brown, I’m not black / But who said that?” Howard unflinchingly acknowledges the adversity she has faced and looks it straight in the eyes.
Howard’s courage and steel spirit are wrapped up in the call to action of “Tomorrow,” which weaves together the purpose of her personal reflections. She implores against subsiding to inaction, warning, “Tomorrow, we always talk about tomorrow / But now that we’re here without liftin’ a finger / How you figure / We get lifted.” She begs us to make the most of our experiences and take control of the present for what it’s worth to enact change in the world.
In her own words on “13th Century Metal,” Howard proclaims the sum of her message on “Jaimie; “I hear the voices of the unheard / Speak for those who cannot speak / And shelter the minds that carry a message / Of peace, love, and prosperity / I repeat, we are all brothers and sisters.” Brittany Howard is a beacon and a spokesperson for us all, proving that true power comes from knowing oneself.