Release Date: Sep 20, 2019
Record label: ATO
Alabama Shakes was a band that couldn't be stopped. After just two albums, the band had grabbed four Grammys and become popular with mainstream audiences, but also, after the release of Sound & Color especially, enjoyed critical acclaim. It all seemed too easy, which meant that it was no longer that interesting for the inimitable frontwoman Brittany Howard.
Across the 11 tracks on 'Jaime', named after her sister who passed away when she was a child, Brittany Howard places some tough subject matters under the microscope. She tackles her fraught relationship with religion on 'He Loves Me', featuring bursts of sampled dialogue from a sermon, later there's a song entitled 'Goat Head' which explores mixed race identity against an impassioned instrumental. While the songwriting mainly comes from a place of isolation and introspection, the musicianship and production sounds more communal and playful.
Brittany Howard tends to get a little restless when things get too comfortable. Just when she and her band Alabama Shakes were branded as innocuous roots-rock revivalists after their 2012 debut, Boys & Girls, she started pushing their retro-soul sound to its outer reaches and beyond. Sound & Color, from 2015, sprawled out into blues and funk and psychedelia, and won three Grammys doing it.
The Alabama Shakes mainspring's first solo release showcases R&B borne of a dark, introspective place, grooving like a 35-minute scream into a pillow. Most striking is the secular gospel of "He Loves Me," which maintains God's love despite Brittany Howard's drinkin'/smokin' ways. The ambient funk of "Goat Head" muses on growing up mixed race: "Who slashed my dad's tires and put a goat head in the back?" "13th Century Metal" channels Sly Stone's discordant There's a Riot Goin' On to "oppose those whose will is to divide us and who are determined to keep us in the dark ages of fear." Howard's offered a salve laced with sand.
Jaime is the name of Brittany Howard's sister, a sibling who died from a rare cancer when she was 13 years old. Howard began reckoning with the enduring ramifications of her loss when she started writing a memoir, an exercise that eventually led to her 2019 solo debut Jaime. Running a tight 35 minutes but containing a lifetime's worth of drama and insight, Jaime is bracing in its adventure and generosity.
In these confounding times just learning to love yourself—especially if you're black, gay, and from Alabama—can be it's own act of resistance. Alabama Shakes' frontwoman Brittany Howard puts her Grammy-winning band on hiatus as she manifests this reality for Jaime, her searing and deeply personal solo debut. It is dedicated to her older sister—who passed away at 14 from a rare form of eye cancer—but the songs are about Howard.
You know when you've won four Grammys, performed for Obama and duetted at the express request of a Beatle and you're thinking, "I need to shake it up"? Yeah, we can't relate either, but thankfully - at only 30 - Brittany Howard did just that. And now we have her debut solo project outside of Alabama Shakes. From the tantalisingly percussive 'History Repeats' to the melancholically synthesised 'Run to Me', 'Jaime' is an unflinching exploration of the very nooks and crannies we censor even from ourselves.
W inners 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. These songs started as melodic scraps and Howard astutely keeps them feeling scrappy.