Brittany Howard explores self, spirituality, and sexuality in debut solo album "Jaime"

Brittany Howard’s album Jaime is the perfect example of a solo artist being vulnerable and taking risks. Her record employs her powerful voice fans have some to love to tell a story they needed to hear.

Story by Lawson Freeman

Photo Courtesy of ATO Records

Photo Courtesy of ATO Records

After a series of single releases earlier this year, Brittany Howard finally released her debut solo album, Jaime, on Sept. 20. Howard has been the lead singer and guitarist for Alabama Shakes since before the band won a Grammy for Best New Artist in 2013, however, the band hasn’t released new music since Sound & Color in 2015. Jaime is Howard’s first project away from Alabama Shakes since the band began.

The 11-track album is a tribute to its namesake, Howard’s older sister Jaime, who died at the age of 13 from a rare form of childhood cancer, according to the New York Times. However, Howard insists her new record isn’t about anything but her own personal journey. Her song lyrics include themes of spirituality, racial identity, and loving relationships.

Some may argue that much of Alabama Shakes’ fame is due to the captivating power of Howard’s vocals, so fans would expect her solo album to be seeping with soul. The tracks “Stay High” and “Baby” stand out as true to that expectation. Howard’s bold vocals are the focal point of these songs. Her voice stretches from a low and gravelly vibrato to core-shaking high notes, giving audiences an earful of the artist’s signature soul.

The record’s second track, “He Loves Me,” explores Howard’s relationship with religion alongside a smooth R&B melody. In this song, samples from a church sermon are broken up by Howard’s personal proclamations of faith: “I know He still loves me when I'm smoking blunts / Loves me when I'm drinking too much.

In “Goat Head,” Howard delves into a disturbing experience from her parent’s marriage in which her father woke up to find his tires slashed and the head of a goat in the trunk of his car. About the incident, she sings, “I guess I'm not 'posed to mind 'cause I'm brown, I'm not black.” This song expresses the profound effect her parent’s interracial relationship had on her identity as a black adult.

Love and sexuality are the main focus of “Short and Sweet” and “Georgia.” The former examines the beginning and unknown of a relationship. The lyrics “I may be a fool to dream of you / But, God, it feels so good to dream at all,” express the heart’s wanting and apprehension. “Georgia” is a love song from a young Howard to another girl. Howard sings “I ain't no little boy / I just want Georgia to notice me.

Through Jaime, Brittany Howard has conveyed a true knowledge of self. The combination of strong vocals, raw lyrics, and deep sound come together to make a record that is fresh and revealing. The release of this album comes weeks before Howard’s Friday afternoon set at Austin City Limits Music Festival.