Danny Clinch / courtesy Red Light Mgmt. – Brittany Howard
performs at the Hollywood Palladiumon Jan. 22, 2019, as part of Grammy week’s Citi Vault series.
There’s an axiom of sorts in the live business that once the industry pros start buzzing about an artist, it won’t be long before minds everywhere get blown by said artist. It’s happened over the last year or so with up-and-comers like Billie Eilish, Lizzo, Rosalía, Shabaka Hutchings and Yola to name but a few. And there’s another, someone who’s done it before and is doing it again, albeit at a whole other level.
“I’ve seen Brittany Howard six times this year and she’s one of the most astonishing women I’ve ever seen perform,” said veteran agent and High Road Touring founder Frank Riley, who first saw Howard perform as a solo artist last August at the Ryman Auditorium. “She’s got something to say that we all need to hear. She took the personal and made it universal. She’s a fucking genius.” ‘
“I’ve never seen anything quite like it in 45 years of going to shows and over 40 years of playing shows,” said Drive-By Truckers’ Patterson Hood, who in 2011 saw Howard’s band Alabama Shakes perform at Pegasus Records in his hometown of Florence, Ala., well before the buzz. “I’ve always heard stories of Jon Landau first seeing Springsteen in Boston in ,’74 (‘I’ve seen the future of Rock and Roll…’ etc.) … Besides her singing and playing and songwriting, her ability to connect and transcend. To take the audience to where she wants them to go. In my opinion, she is the greatest live performer of this generation.”
Coran Capshaw, Red Light Management founder, adds, “Brittany is an amazing artist and we’ve loved watching her evolve. She made a really great record and her live show is unbelievable, so I’m certainly not surprised to hear discussions about these kinds of accolades.”
While Howard spent most of the last decade establishing herself as a tour de force with four-time Grammy winners Alabama Shakes, it was unclear how her rather radical decision to go solo would go over. Though she had dabbled outside the Shakes in 2017-18 with the scaled back Bermuda Triangle (with Becca Mancari and Jesse Lafser) and the harder rocking Thunderbitch (with members of Nashville’s Fly Golden Eagle and Clear Plastic Masks), starting all over again and putting all her energies into a solo project was something many might consider foolhardy – even herself.
“It’s scary to mess with success, because the Shakes are doing so good,” Howard said, “but I needed to shake it up – and if you’re going to do that, you better go all out and make it worth it.”
Which Howard did in spades leaving Nashville and holing up in an Airbnb in Los Angeles’ hippie mountain oasis of Topanga. There she wrote and honed song ideas outside the realm of what she had done previously.
“I wanted to do something on my own, just my music, that didn’t have to have a genre or stick to fans’ expectations,” Howard said. “I knew I wanted to do a record, but I didn’t know where to begin. I was freaking out, I didn’t know what to sing or what it would sound like. I was writing every day, putting all this stress on myself, hoping something would happen.”
Something, it turned out, very much happened. It’s not often one hears an album as bold or ambitious as Jaime, Howard’s stunning solo debut released in September on ATO Records. It’s an out-of-the-box and inspiring stew of soul, jazz, acid rock, gospel, spoken word and more evoking a number of timeless music geniuses of the American popular music canon.
John Shore /Courtesy Red Light Mgmt – Leader of the Pack:
Brittany Howard (center) with her 8-piece band which includes from left to right: Alex Chakour, Nate Smith, Zac Cockrell, Brad Allen Williams, Howard, Paul Horton, Shanay Johnson, Lloyd Buchanan, and Karita Law.
There’s Prince, for sure; and Sly Stone, too; D’Angelo’s tight R&B funk; Marvin Gaye’s silky grooves; Erykah Badu’s ethereal voice and swing; P-Funk’s acid rock and art-damaged funk; Otis Redding’s gospel groove; Nina Simone’s pathos and power; James Brown’s even tighter funk; with dashes of Aretha and Billie (as well as an awesome electronic jam out of left field that sounds like nothing so much as U.K. electronic group Underworld). That such a gilded amalgam exists at all is testament to this mind-blowingly gifted artist.
Jaime is also Howard’s most personal and soul-bearing recording to date. It’s named for her older sister who tragically passed at age 13 from retinoblastoma, a rare children’s eye cancer, when Brittany was just 8. Her “essence,” Howard has said, helped inspire and guide her and may just be the ineffable element to what makes this otherworldly album so inspirational and powerful.
There’s weighty autobiographical subject matter fearlessly tackled that emanates from deep within but manifests as universal messages. Songs like “Goat Head” chronicles the racism she and her mixed-race family endured; “Georgia” expressing young Sapphic desire is the love song generations of women never had; “He Loves Me” sees her returning to spirituality on her own terms (with help from Pastor Terry K. Anderson of Lilly Grove Missionary Baptist Church); while the infectious hit single “Stay High” is a loving tribute to her father K.J. Howard; “13th Century Metal” the aforementioned Underworld-like jam with music by Robert Glasper and Nate Smith, is filled with affirmations we should all espouse; while “Presence” is an ethereal groove-filled ode to love.
Part of the record’s out-of-the-box genius lies in its recording done with Shawn Everett who mixed and engineered Alabama Shakes’ envelope expanding Sound & Color for which he won two Grammys. Jaime’s recording sessions in L.A. found the duo continuing their sonic adventures and included capturing an air-conditioner’s frequency, driving for hours to get “crotales” (small antique cymbals) and having drummer extraordinaire Nate Smith play with chopsticks on a set made entirely of snare drums.
Joey Martinez/Courtesy of Red Light Mgmt) –
Brittany Howard’s new solo album Jaime and tour is one of the year’s most acclaimed album/tours of the year.
AP Photo / Jack Plunkett – When We Were Kids:
Alabama Shakes’ Heath Fogg, Zac Cockrell, Brittany Howard, and Steve Johnson, left to right, pose during the SXSW Music Festival in Austin, Texas on Thursday, March 15, 2012.