Brittany Howard is no stranger to the Austin City Limits stage – she’s been on the show twice with her beloved band Alabama Shakes, plus appeared on our fortieth anniversary special. In 2019 she struck out on her own with her acclaimed debut solo record Jaime, named after her late sister, and garnered a fistful of Grammy nominations along the way. Originally scheduled to appear last year, before the pandemic put paid to that idea, Howard brought her long-awaited solo show to us at last, with a crack band, a setlist full of Jaime tunes and well-chosen covers, and an eclectic new sound.
The eight-piece group of backing players arrived first, before the singer herself arrived in a glittering, sparkle-covered robe and bleached-silver hair. She picked up her guitar and went into a gutbucket take on Funkadelic’s “Hit It and Quit It,” featuring Howard and fellow axepeople Brad Allen Williams and Alex Chakour trading solos. She then dipped into Jaime for “He Loves Me,” her story of reconciling her sexuality with her spiritual upbringing. Howard discovered her inner Hi Studios groove for “Georgia,” singing about her desire for the titular entity over a mellow Memphis groove and organist Lloyd Buchanan’s foamy solo. She stuck with Southern soul for “Stay High,” her Grammy-winning radio hit. “Presence” upped the funk while keeping to the sensuous groove, and included more three-guitar action. Things got even greasier for “What I’m All About,” as Howard introduced the band, having them build up the song instrument by instrument, starting with jazz-soaked drummer Nate Smith. She and the band then kicked it old school, taking the Moody Theater to church with a rave-up cover of Jackie Wilson’s “(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher & Higher.”
“I wrote this song when I was on the low side of an 80/20 relationship,” Howard noted as she began “Baby,” a slow jam that explored the sorry side of love. Singers Karita Law and Shanay Johnson came over from stage left to join Howard up front for “Goat Head,” another Grammy-nominated track, and a forthright but danceable exploration of bi-racial identity. That midtempo groove continued with “Tomorrow,” a modern R&B showcase for how flexible and advanced Howard’s voice has become over the years. The funk came rumbling back for another Funkadelic cover, this time of the provocative “You and Your Folks, Me and My Folks” from Maggot Brain. The band followed with “13th Century Metal,” one of the most unique tracks on Jaime, a recitation on which she preached in defense of love and brother/sisterhood. She left the stage as she finished her proselytizing, as did most of the band, leaving the focus on Smith, a musician who knows how to make a drum solo compelling. Howard and her musicians came back to finish the song with exhortations to “Give it to love!” amongst Chakour and Howard’s guitar swirls. She left the stage again as the musicians brought the tune down in a psychedelic haze.
That ended the first set, but not the show. Howard returned with a nylon-string acoustic guitar for another Grammy-nominated number, “Short & Sweet,” a jazzy ballad performed solo that was clearly an audience fave. The band returned to pluck another classic soul tune from the American repertoire, this time a faithful rendition of Stevie Wonder’s “For Once in My Life.” Howard went back to Jaime for the extra-funky, Grammy-nominated single “History Repeats,” featuring more synchronized dancing from Howard and the singers and plenty of audience participation. The momentum rolled on for “Revolution,” Howard’s unique psychedelic soul take on the late sixties Beatles hit, given an extra physical performance. The song sped up to “Shout” levels before crashing to a close to a hail of cheers and applause. “Y’all were a great crowd tonight,” she told the crowd. “I got charged all the way up!” With that, Howard quit the stage, ending a spectacular show that we can’t wait for you to see when it premieres November 20, 2021 as part of our new Season 47 on your local PBS station.