WERS Deep Dive: A Look at Brittany Howard’s Genre Fusion

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Graphics by Nicole Bae

By Kiersten Tate, WERS Staff Writer

Ever since I started working with WERS in the fall, I've broadened my horizons in indie music. One day, I remember coming across Brittany Howard's hit song "Georgia" and needing to listen to more of her songs. I fell in love with her debut solo album Jaime and also listened to some songs by Alabama Shakes, her previous project.

Howard formed the band Alabama Shakes with Zac Cockrell, Heath Fogg, and Steve Johnson in 2009. The band, based in Athens, Alabama, creates blues-rock and roots-rock music. They have two studio albums: Boys & Girls (2012) and Sound & Color (2015). Nearly five years after Sound & Color, Howard continues to merge different music genres on her 2019 release, Jaime. She keeps up with blues and roots-rock, while also adding influences from heavy metal, folk, and R&B.

To celebrate Howard's artistic talents, I created a playlist with songs by Alabama Shakes and from her solo career. Here, you'll see that Brittany Howard's style is dynamic; her sound ranges from vibrant to somber, and her talent is phenomenal.

"You Ain't Alone" - Alabama Shakes - Boys & Girls

On this Boys & Girls track, Brittany Howard sings about someone who's secluded and reassures them that they're not alone. The lyrics in "You Ain't Alone" create a somber mood. However, the rhythm of the music changes from subdued to loud and lively. Howard channels the emotional style of blues music, but also brings in the energy of rock. The varying intensity of Howard's voice and the instruments makes the song more thrilling.

"Heartbreaker" - Alabama Shakes - Boys & Girls

Given the name of the title, Howard sings about her first heartbreak; she wasn't prepared for her lover to let her down. The vocals in "Heartbreaker" remind you of an Etta James song, but mixed with rock. Howard opens up her soul to the listener as she sings. Plus, the different paces of the drums, mixed with the piano and guitar, show Howard's confusion and pain.

"Future People" - Alabama Shakes - Sound & Colors

"Future People" embodies the blues-rock genre with the electric guitar and drum sounds switching from mellow to lively. Howard's vocals also switch from nostalgic and emotional - common for blues music - to high-energy, which is more rock-based. The switch in mood suits the lyrics because they discuss the longing to see lost loved ones while looking forward to what the future holds. Listening to this song will also help you understand the second part of the band name Alabama Shakes.

"Gemini" - Alabama Shakes - Sound & Colors

Although Alabama Shakes is well-known for rock, "Gemini" has more of the soulful sound that Howard will bring into her first solo album, Jaime. Softer drumming sounds and Howard's rich, smooth voice add a lot of depth to the song. Also, Howard alludes to Greek mythology to sing about her past relationship with a loved one. She reveals that she craves the intimacy they once shared. "Gemini" has a heaing sound and is great to listen to when you're reminiscent.

"He Loves Me" - Solo - Jaime

Howard's debut solo album Jaime has incredible hits, like "Stay High" and "Georgia," but a few tracks are pretty underrated. "He Loves Me" is about her reassuring belief that God loves her all the time, no matter what. The snippets of Rev. Terry Anderson's sermon enhances the song's message, while Howard's voice amplifies with the instrumentals. The mix of percussion and electric guitar not only gives the song a soulful feeling, but also a sense of security. Also, the sound is relaxing, yet elevating.

"Baby" - Solo - Jaime

"Baby" is a perfect tune to listen to when you're fed up. Brittany Howard sings about a past relationship that she put more effort into than her partner and felt exhausted. She was also tired of hearing her partner say, "Hey, baby," as if they were invested like Howard was. As Howard pours her heart out, her emotional energy matches the ebb and flow of the music. The sound also has a folk-like to feel to it with the tambourine thrown into the mix.

"13th Century Metal" - Solo - Jaime

Some songs in Jaime include spoken verses, but "13th Century Metal" is very different. It's an interesting track because Howard performs spoken word along to heavy metal sounds. The tune makes you recall a preparation scene for a fight in a movie, and also makes you feel like you're in a different universe. On the other hand, Howard gives herself words of encouragement and affirms her beliefs in human brotherhood. Also, she pushes herself to change and achieve good.

"Presence" - Solo - Jaime

The harp sounds in the introduction of "Presence" sounds magical, which ties in with the background of the song. Howard and her partner started to smoke weed one day and, while smoking, Howard thought about her love for her partner's presence. In this song, Howard lets her lover know how special she is and how much happiness she brings: "'Cause what's this world without you in it? You make me feel just like we're some little kids." This song might be less popular, but it's a golden Americana tune.

Extra Listens:

"Be Mine" - Alabama Shakes - Boys & Girls

"History Repeats" - Solo - Jaime

"Shoegaze" - Alabama Shakes - Sound & Color

"Short and Sweet" - Solo - Jaime

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