Brittany Howard: Jaime

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Brittany Howard
Jaime
(ATO)
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

It was inevitable really. You could count the amount of listeners who didn’t think Alabama Shakes frontwoman Brittany Howard would go solo on the fingers of one hand and still have enough left to flash the peace sign. The surprise is how quickly she took the plunge. After only two full albums from the Shakes, Howard is already off and running. In comparison, Mick Jagger waited two decades to make the same move.

But one listen to the compelling, uncompromising, and intensely personal Jaime and you’ll know why she had to go this one alone.

These songs, which range from the Prince styled funk of the opening “History Repeats” to the Robert Glasper assisted rock with spoken word lyrics of “13th Century Metal” and the solo musings of “Short & Sweet,” wouldn’t fit within even the elastic boundaries of her full time band.

The project, named after her sister who was influential towards Howard’s artistic talents and who passed away as a teenager, addresses a diverse, at times divisive batch of topics. From the spiritual concerns of “He Loves Me” (“I know He still loves me when I’m smoking blunts/Loves me when I’m drinking too much/He loves me then”) with its sampled preacher vocals to a deeply intimate discussion of her sexuality on “Georgia” (perhaps not coincidentally the following track), these songs feel like more of a therapy session than a cohesive statement.

Some Sly Stone circa There’s a Riot Goin’ On appears in the sparse funk of “Goat Head,” a devastatingly descriptive tune about being raised as a bi-racial child, and a nod to Nina Simone in what seems to be a love song “Presence” (“What’s this life got without your spot?/You make me feel so black and alive”), accompanied only by a harp and skeletal electronics. She goes Sign of the Times-era Prince on the stripped down “Baby,” calling out the musical changes in what seems to be a rehearsal that made it to the final cut. The distorted, emotionally laced vocals of the closing lugubrious ballad “Run to Me” were recorded on a cell phone.

The Shakes’ unflinching 2015 Sound & Color sophomore release that aggressively pushed past the confines of their debut seems conservative next to the sounds and especially lyrics Howard delivers here. This is a brave, introspective and almost wincingly revealing album most artists wouldn’t attempt. It’s also difficult to process after repeated plays. But Jamie is nothing if not daring, filled with fascinating, sometimes jarring musical complexities which the most skeptical listener will appreciate. Despite its relatively brief 36 minute playing time, the disc’s concepts and sheer obliqueness makes it linger far longer as a bold declaration from a restlessly creative artist with plenty on her mind.

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