Brittany Howard: Jaime review

(Columbia Records)
A wonderful solo debut takes in race, religion and boozy excess, all with searing lyricism

Winners of four Grammy awards across three styles – rock, alternative and roots – Alabama Shakes straddle others besides: gospel, blues, rock’n’roll, soul. But this debut solo album from frontwoman Brittany Howard stretches out even further, casually and unpretentiously, as if on a sofa with a guitar when everyone’s at work.

Brittany Howard: Jaime album art work
Brittany Howard: Jaime album art work Photograph: Publicity Image

These songs started as melodic scraps and Howard astutely keeps them feeling scrappy. You can feel the torn edges of vocal samples as they rant and repeat, while her own voice will chant or sing over itself; there is plenty of room noise and lo-fidelity, but never in a needlessly fetishistic way. It has the skittish quality of J Dilla, and indeed, Tomorrow, He Loves Me and Goat Head are underpinned by rhythms that sit between hip-hop and neo-soul. There’s something of Gil Scott-Heron’s rangier moments too; the careful, melancholy placement of the notes of Short and Sweet evokes Billie Holiday.

The scraps are glued into place and luminously lit by Howard’s brilliant sense of melody, and her searing lyricism. The standout is Georgia, which begins with Howard repeating “I just want Georgia to notice me” in a girlish chant, as if picking petals off a daisy. Soon she is left with just a stalk, and the impossibility of her ardour hits her full-force: the song switches up with a stirring organ motif and becomes intensely moving, two scraps finessed into something whole. The excellent Goat Head lays out the racism her parents faced as a mixed-race couple in the American south, Howard’s lyric written with a child’s blend of clarity and confusion at the injustice.

But it’s emotionally as well as musically varied. He Loves Me sees Howard giving up church safe in the knowledge that God is still smiling on her when she’s drinking too much and smoking blunts; she finds herself in a different cloud on Stay High, of bliss that’s perhaps musical, perhaps post-coital, backed by twinkling waltz-time soul. Artists often take on solo projects to get things out of their system before regrouping, but those things are rarely as beautiful as they are here.


Ben Beaumont-Thomas

The GuardianTramp

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