Brittany Howard: What Now Album Review

February 13, 2024 - Music

Almost immediately after Alabama Shakes broke through with tasteful retro-soul style, Brittany Howard pushed back against categorization. Her band’s Grammy-winning 2015 record, Sound & Color, borrowed from touchstones as far-reaching as Y2K post-punk, Erykah Badu, and Portishead, but it was Howard’s 2019 debut solo album, Jaime, where her experimentation truly blossomed. Its sound gravitated between quiet torch songs and raucous declarations that mixed funk-rock with electronica, bound by startling lyrics mined from Howard’s biography. What Now, recorded during the pandemic in Shawn Everett’s studio, is a different beast. Its subject matter is more gestural and existential—a love gone wrong, a call for peace, a bout of depression in the near future. It feels both looser and brawnier, a sound nerd’s project with stadium-sized panache and a grab-bag approach.

What Now opens calmly enough, with crystal singing bowls and a few tentative piano chords and cymbal hits, as Howard narrates her trepidation. “But will I know?/Will I feel it?/The first moment that I see it?” she sings, her voice layered over itself in a blanketing echo. Then, with a whirling synth and explosion of drums, she’s off, blasting through the atmosphere, whizzing past soul, blues, funk, jazz, psychedelia, and house music. If Howard’s lyrics make it seem like she’s still working through things, her music sounds like she’s got it all figured out. Every song here, even the slow stuff, feels giant and propulsive—a grand celestial tour of rock and R&B, guided by one of the few singers and multi-instrumentalists with the range and intuition to pull it off.

Howard is studied in the Stevie Wonder school of pulling a groove out of just about anything, thanks in part to her rhythm section here, drum virtuoso Nate Smith and versatile Alabama Shakes bassist Zac Cockrell. “I Don’t” builds around a melancholy chipmunk-soul hook in the vein of Cam’ron; “Patience” morphs from a bog-standard slow jam into a dazzling showcase of warped keyboard effects; at least one song features Howard banging on a trash can. There’s the muscular, airtight funk-rock of the title track, the frenetic boxed-in percussion of “Red Flags,” and a big swing at house music on “Prove It to You.” Yet some of the album’s most inspired choices have no rhythm at all. Between nearly every track, the singing bowls return, played by sound bath practitioners Ann Sensing and Ramona Reid, providing a brief respite and sealing What Now together like spiritual glue.

Source link

Play Cover Track Title
Track Authors