Brittany Howard Answers ‘What Now?’ In Her Latest Album

Brittany Howard

“What Now?”

That question was invoked by the title and the 12 tracks within the latest album by singer-songwriter and guitarist Brittany Howard.

In 2012, I first fell in love with Howard’s voice as the leader and soulful powerhouse behind Alabama Shakes and its debut album “Boys and Girls.” The band’s blend of blues, roots rock, and soul, led by Howard, was magical.

Brittany Howard - What Now

That first album was pure gold, and its subsequent release, “Sound and Color,” won two Grammy awards for Best Rock Song and Best Alternative Music Album and was nominated for Album of the Year, losing to Taylor Swift’s “1989.”

After leading the Shakes, Howard released her solo debut, “Jaime,” in 2019, allowing her to experiment and refine the sound she has created with her latest collection, “What Now,” released Friday, Feb. 9, 2024.

“With the world we’re living in now, it feels like we’re all just trying to hang onto our souls,” Howard said in a release. “Everything seems to be getting more extreme, and everyone keeps wondering, ‘What now? What’s next?’ The only constant on this record is you never know what’s going to happen next: every song is its own aquarium, its own little miniature world built around whatever I was feeling and thinking at the time.”

The album opens with some free jazz. The crystal sound bowls, recorded at Nashville Center For Alternative Therapy, warm up the atmosphere for “Earth Sign,” continuing throughout to transition each track.

The second track delivers the delightful Motown sound that first made me fall in love with Howard’s voice. She digs into some ’80s rhythm and blues on the title track, then gets funky, Prince style, emoting into her six strings.

The free-jazz feel returns to open “Red Flags,” and then she comes in with one of those catchy melodies reminiscent of her work on “Jaime.”

Howard was joined in the studio at Sound Emporium and RCA Studio A in her new hometown of Nashville, Tennessee, by keyboardists Paul Horton and Lloyd Buchanan, guitarist Brad Allen Williams, drummer Nate Smith, and Alabama Shakes bassist Zac Cockrell.

“All the sounds on this album are analog, all the drums are real drums,” Howard said. “There’s so many different structures and tones happening within the songs that it ended up being a real monster to mix, but we figured it out. In a way, it’s shocking to me how it all came together.”

While much of the album has a somber tone reflecting a divorce, there is a shift after the “Interlude” when she hits “Another Day.” Uplifting and free-spirited, the track is funky and inspiring.

That gets turned up a notch for the ’90s house-inspired “Prove It To You,” one of the album’s highlights. It has Underworld vibes and some ’90s pop like Cher, making it both funky and fun.

Howard goes deep and dark with the organ tones and lets the jazz trumpet soar on “Samson,” reflecting the songwriter’s conflicted feelings evident throughout the album.

That soulful Shakes sound gets an upgrade on “Patience” and explores funky piano territory, again à la The Purple One, letting Howard’s voice shine. Though there was only one artist formerly known as Prince, Howard seems to channel those vibes throughout the 12 tracks, including on “Power To Undo.”

Her guitar work, stellar throughout, just gets better on the final track, “Every Color Of Blue.” It stands as a testament to the artist’s creativity and resilience.

Across 38 minutes and 26 seconds on her latest album, Brittany Howard reminds us of her greatness and answers “What Now” with a desire for more magical music.

See Brittany Howard on a sold-out tour, making stops Feb. 16-17 at Webstar Hall in New York City and Feb. 20-21 at the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C.

Get “What Now” from Amazon, Apple Music, YouTube Music, Spotify, Pandora, Tidal and Deezer.

Favorite Tracks

I Don’t
What Now
Red Flags
To Be Still
Another Day
Prove It To You
Power To Undo
Every Color Of Blue