It’s a little strange for an artist to announce a solo debut album after creating and releasing music with multiple side projects. However, Brittany Howard has always been a little strange and with her latest album Jaime, she not only explores new musical ground, but also a introspective look into her life.
First gaining attention with the Alabama Shakes, Howard has already experimented with mixing genres like soul, funk, and progressive rock to find new sonic textures and musical avenues. Their sophomore album Sound & Color showcased a drastically different sound from their previous/debut album Boys & Girls due in large part to Howard‘s ventures in sound. All of those musical ventures have lead to the release of Jaime.
Dedicated to her sister Jaime who passed from a rare form of eye cancer (retinoblastoma) as a teen, every track shows Brittany discussing different parts of her personal life and philosophies. Dealing with themes of lost love, race, death, this album is both musically and lyrically and musically dense.
The opening track, “History Repeats“, sets the listener up with scattered guitars and vocals against solid and funky drums holding the rhythm down. It’s high energy and as someone who is a sucker for a good opener, this track really does create a perfect foundation for what is about to come.
“He Loves Me” follows the same musical landscape as the first track, but right out of the gate we get to hear the blunt honesty on her own battles with religion and spirituality. Having an intense pastor spread the word of church, peace, and worries gives the audience a taste of what Howard (and many of us) might have experienced when younger.
The tracks “Georgia” and “Stay High” mix together the old school sounds of Motown and Muscle Shoals to give a timeless feel. In “Georgia” we see Howard open up about her own sexuality and younger love interests and with “Stay High” we see her delve into topics of her own mental health and overcoming the struggles of life.
Two of my favorite tracks from this album were “Short And Sweet” and “Goat Head“. The first had the same feeling of melancholic love that is reminiscent of songs like Nina Simone‘s “For All We Know“. “Goat Head” however wades through topics of race and the hostility that Howard and her family have faced because of their skin color.
Jaime is littered with beautiful lyrics and original musical ideas that are distinctively Howard. Really the only cons that come from the album have solely to do with production. Most of the tracks had a very hard compression that really added nothing to some of them and the bits of wild instrumentation could have taken a step back on a few of the tracks. There’s also the case for the songs “13th Century Metal“, “Baby“, “Presence“, and “Run To Me“. The first three mentioned are polar opposites when it comes to musical textures while the album closer “Run To Me” has a distinct 80’s ballad/Purple Rain feel that also serves as a drastically different offering from the album opener. Hearing the songs performed live also gives a more fluid experience and a feel that is more nuanced and natural than the record.
For an overall rating, I’d give this a good 7/10. Jaime is highly listenable and enjoyable for someone who might want to step out of their comfort zones a bit. Album lovers will find a familiar home with its sonic elements and overall theme while casual listeners can step out of the comfort-ability of modern radio. I cannot wait to see where Howard goes next and hopefully we can see a new Alabama Shakes record in the near future.