Jaime is the name of out lesbian and Alabama Shakes lead singer Brittany Howard’s sister, a sibling who died from a rare cancer when she was 13 years old. Howard began reckoning with the enduring ramifications of her loss when she started writing a memoir, an exercise that eventually led to her 2019 solo debut Jaime. Running a tight 35 minutes but containing a lifetime’s worth of drama and insight, Jaime is bracing in its adventure and generosity. Trace elements of Americana can be heard — there’s nary a trace of the rockabilly roar of her ferocious Thunderbitch side project — but Jaime could never be mistaken for an Alabama Shakes album. It’s too funky and too fluid in how it embraces noise, art, and soul: witness “13th Century Metal,” a collaboration with jazz keyboardist Robert Glasper where an organ stutters like a broken synth, the rhythms are as tight as a loop, and Howard recites her spoken verse with abandon. It’s a moment of coiled fury, but most of Jaime rolls to a languid, stoned soul beat, allowing Howard to play with her phrasing; she slides between the sexy, sad, and sweet, sometimes blending all three emotions simultaneously. The depth of feeling may be rooted in autobiography, but Jaime is a far cry from a stark confessional. It’s slippery, elusive, and sober in its intent, even when its sound is decidedly woozy. Jaime plays the way memories do: specific facts get lost to a truth that gets larger as years pass, where the familiarity can be reassuring yet melancholy. Howard’s embrace of all the mess of life gives Jaime its sustenance. Her audacity is apparent upon the first listen, but subsequent spins are profound and nourishing.
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