Brittany Howard: What Now (digital outlets)

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Brittany Howard: What Now (digital outlets)

Some years ago I heard a remarkable song which I immediately introduced to my uni music students: it was Don't Wanna Fight by Alabama Shakes, a band I knew nothing about at the time.

But the singer, Brittany Howard, delivered the “I don't wanna fight” line over and over with a different expression, from anger to resignation and defeat.

It was a remarkable performance and interpretation of a few simple words which she inhabited.

It came from their 2015 second album Sound and Colour.

I mentioned this when the band's 2012 debut album Boys and Girls came to hand last year for consideration.

Howard went out on her own and we were reasonably enthusiastic about her debut Jaime noting, “if it doesn't always hit its marks you are never in any doubt about the targets or where her shots are coming from”.

And yes, we again mentioned Don't Wanna Fight. Are you getting the idea you should hear it?

For this new album, as in Alabama Shakes and with Jaime, the Grammy-winning Howard again taps into Prince-funk, classic R'n'B, psychedelic soul, dancefloor pop and so on.

It makes for a heady, jazz-influenced brew (Robert Glasper was on Jaime).

The opener Earth Sign is musically unconventional as it shifts shape from sparseness into a windstorm of layered, multi-tracked vocals and doesn't settle on a chorus.

It's a challenge but is so full of assertive optimism about love that it sets up an album with relationships and love at its heart.

At the other end of the album is Every Color in Blue, a sprightly pop number with trumpet and another of her astonishing vocal performances where she runs the range from fragility to a roar (albeit over the busy backdrop). It's a busy song on album which can take some unpicking.

But the entry points are the Prince-like title track which posits the idea of a world full of doubts and uncertainty that love and trust are essential, and Power to Undo (you'd swear it was the late star was in the house from the vocals to funk and guitar).

Or the dancefloor pulse of Prove It To You which taps the spirit of Giorgio Moroder (and speaks well of love).

Or the handclap urgency of Another Day which is pure celebration: “I'm having the time of my life”.

There are places of soulful quiet here too (the smoky To Be Still, the insightful ballad Samson about personal hurt in a relationship with distant, yearning Miles Davis-like trumpet) and throughout Howard holds up a prism to love to consider the risks taken, the rewards given and the need for it.

There are any number of albums these days where artists grapple with their “demons”, separation anxieties, post-Covid and so on.

Brittany Howard is a serious artist but manages to bring danceable joy, some sterling rock guitar and the celebratory spirit of Paisley Park on an album which reaches wide and offers as much pleasure as poignancy.

.

You can hear and but this album at bandcamp here.


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