We got behind the record on Brittany Howard’s , “Jaime”, which we have not been able to put down since. It’s remarkable to think that she is just over thirty years old, with a voice this soulful, experienced and seasoned.
As it turns out, Howard has plenty of seasoning and life experience under her belt, and now she’s back in the spotlight with her powerhouse of an album, Jaime, and the title is a dedication to her late sister, who helped launch Howard on her successful musical path.
Howard’s Musical Beginnings
Howard is the lead singer for Grammy award winning artists Alabama Shakes, and when the group went on hiatus, she indulged in several solo projects, including the Jaime album.
Howard is from Athens, Alabama. Her family ran a junkyard business, and she grew up in a trailer. Despite coming from less than stellar circumstances, Howard enjoyed her childhood, telling NPR, “My mom was really good at making our home – no matter what our situation was – always felt like a home, always felt really nice.”
Then Howard’s sister ended up contracting retinoblastoma, which is an eye cancer, and she eventually succumbed to the disease. (Howard had the same illness, and she is mostly blind in one eye.) The family split up shortly after Jaime’s death, and Howard moved with her mother in Madison, Alabama.
As it turns out, Jaime was a big influence on Howard’s musical career. Howard started playing her sister’s guitar. Jaime initially taught her about music and how to write poetry.
Howard would sneak out of the house to see bands perform, and she eventually founded Alabama Shakes. She wrote a song, On Your Way, in memory of her sister. It took Howard a long time to come to terms with losing Jamie. “I think that song, writing that song, was my way of trying to console myself because everyone tried to carry on the best they could.”
Howard told Paste, “My sister, me and her were so cool. She was like my teacher. So she’d be like, ‘This is how you draw and this is good music. This is the kind of music we like. This is how you play piano. This is how you play guitar, this is how you write a song, this is how you write lyrics.’ We didn’t play video games all day – we went out and used our imagination, played outside. So it was the golden era of being a kid. And that’s why making my first record, I wanted to put her name on it because I feel like it’s just as much mine as it is hers. It makes me feel great to see our names together on there.”
In a recent Esquire profile of Howard, she was called “a grade-A experimentalist,” and she told the publication, “To me, every song is a landscape, and you see a lot of landscapes in your life.”
Jaime is a very personal album for Howard, and it tackles a lot of topics lyrically from her upbringing, love, and racism. Musically, her tastes run a wide gambit. She’s not just into R&B and soul, but she also enjoys extreme metal bands like Lamb of God. “I’ve always liked metal music because it’s so different from what I do.”
Howard was inspired to write the Jaime album on a road trip from Nashville to L.A. As she told Billboard, “The road trip inspired me to double-down and do this record. Some towns I would drive through in the middle of nowhere, just literally in the middle of nowhere, America, being like, ‘Wow, this is it for these people. This is where they want to be and there they want to die, this little town that doesn’t have industry anymore – literally ghost towns that people still live in.’ It was really eye-opening. I was just like, I really want to do the things I want to do while I’m here.”
One song on the album, Goathead, deals with racism. “If you just tell the truth, you don’t know who that’s affecting or who that can help,” Howard explains. “I think I felt really vulnerable immediately once I performed that song in the studio.”
Howard knows she’s created a risky album with Jaime, but as she explained to Billboard, “I think the risk was making this record in and of itself. It’s not like a risk I perceived, because I had to do it, I was going to do it. I did consider the risk for a second, like, ‘Okay, your career is over!’ But then I was like, ‘You know what, it doesn’t matter: I gotta do it.’ As far as the material on this record, it didn’t feel risky or scary when I was making the songs; I think maybe musically they were a lot more adventurous. I wanted to take people to a more adventurous space.”
The World Reacts
Now that it’s out in the world, the reviews for Jaime have been very strong. The Guardian calls it “a wonderful solo debut [that] takes in race, religion and boozy excess, with searing lyricism… These songs started as melodic scarps and Howard astutely keeps them feeling scrappy. You can feel the torn edges of vocal samples as they rant and repeat…The scraps are glued into place and luminously lit by Howard’s brilliant sense of melody.”
Rolling Stone notes that with Jaime, Howard “goes in a fascinating new direction…It’s a total departure, her kaleidoscopic mix of decades’ worth of R&B, hip-hop, blues, and gospel, steeped in trippy laptop sonics and deeply personal political urgency.” Rolling Stone also wrote that the album is “full” of “strikingly bold moments.”
And in Paste’s review of Jaime, the music site notes, “The album’s 11 songs are spontaneous, fluid and entirely indifferent to genre as they pour out of her like the torrential rains of an evening thunderstorm…Jaime is Howard’s sharpest cocktail yet of folk, blues, gospel, jazz and soul…When Howard lets her passion flow unadulterated, she comes out at the top of the class.”