Brittany Howard : What Now

Brittany Howard What Now review

Brittany Howard is such an iconoclast, she rebels against herself. As soon as her Grammy-winning band Alabama Shakes started to sound like an outfit, a well-seasoned great playing one to boot, bordering on slipping in and out of just one categorization, Howard was on her way toward building a solo career. Jaime, a fearless debut solo album—part funk-blues, part apocalyptic space jazz and Curtis Mayfield gospel sweetness—carried all the heft and nuance of a queer, mixed-race woman, born to a Black father and white mother in the same city as the founder of the neo-Nazi message board Stormfront and a former Grand Wizard in the Klan. She almost called the record Black Björk: I would not have been mad at that.

At the time, she was a member of her rock group Thunderbitch and the alt-country band Bermuda Triangle. And with all that music running through, she always has and will explore that range, people. I even caught it live—sorta. I was within minutes of seeing her live show in 2021 at the October installation of Outside Lands in San Francisco, which was running late because of COVID messing shit up. I get to Lands End Stage at the Polo field to reserve my bit of outside real estate for B, Howard, and I see oncoming 20,000 no-mask-wearing people (everyone was supposedly vaccinated, you can insert that shrug emoji here, checked before entering the event) just moving, swarming like it’s Radiohead from 2008. 

That’s when the brother bounced. Exited stage left. As I was walking towards Geary after crossing Fulton, hitting double time through the main gate entrance, I heard Howard open with a face-melting, ripping version of the Funkadelic calling card “Hit It and Quit It” from the Black Music funk-rock Bible that is Maggot Brain. That shit made my day, my week, and my month. This amazing young Black Woman and killer musician put a generation up on game, passing wisdom on to the damn mouth-breathers.

“Do your history about me and my folks” was the message I received, happily. That was a moment. As I hear the overreaching, massive roar of the crowd, I’m pleased they got the message and that I left when I did. But her Jaime Reimagined remix album sowed the seeds for what was coming down the pike. Got me in full funk face with Syd, badbadnotgood, and GEEMIX running back so many quality reinterpretations with these unrushed, jamming, funky-as-all-hell reinterpretations doing it up unapologetically Black.

So when we reach the midpoint of What Now and Howard is energetically performing futuristic arrangements, declaring, “I am having the time of my life,” you would have to be incredibly foolish to doubt her. Instead of being reactive, What Now brings the future, Howard’s future, into the present. That’s the way to fight against anything negative—keep going farther, to persevere. 

In the 4/4 angular banger “Prove It To You,” Howard is making promises on the dancefloor, with handclaps too, flexing along to them. And it moves far better than many of these generic EDM tracks out there, doin’ that same Snoresville rub-and-tug thang. Everything Howard attempts carries that blood sacrifice in the lyrics: Passion. Whether singing at some uptempo shuffle or a half-time croon. The essence flows throughout any arrangement here. 

“Samson,” a tear-jerking, Linn drum, trumpet-filled, lazy Sunday afternoon feel, communicates spacious keyboard stories filled with heartfelt confessions and other elements that provide comfort, but at a high cost. Regardless, Howard effortlessly moves through airspace and pays homage to favorite composers and arrangers of contemporary music, without hesitation.

Listen to “I Don’t”—it could easily be a soul classic from the ’60s, either borrowed or reinterpreted by the talented folks over at Colemine, because that’s what they do so well. Meanwhile, the yearning track with so much atmosphere, “To Be Still,” feels like a masterful tribute to the powerful songwriter and arrangement maker Khajha Bonet. Even the closing jawn, “Every Color In Blue,” with its trickling guitar pattern and Thom Yorke-esque vocal squealing, evokes peak Radiohead. What Now shows it isn’t easy to catch a chameleon when all the colors keep running genuine.

Label: Island

Year: 2024

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Brittany Howard What Now review

Brittany Howard : What Now

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