ACL Live Review: Brittany Howard

What? No knee drops from the soul Shaker?

“I know he still loves me when I’m smoking blunts,” Brittany Howard crooned Saturday afternoon across the Donnie Hathaway-like lover man grooves of “He Loves Me,” which opened her ACL Fest solo set. “Loves me when I’m drinking too much,” continues the secular gospel statement-of-purpose in the second place slot on her solo debut, Jaime.

Photo by David Brendan Hall

Setting down the cheap, four-pickup electric guitar for the bulk of the Honda mainstage set, she served notice this isn’t Alabama Shakes, the band that made her a famous garage-blues wunderkind. Despite the bass guitar presence of the on-hiatus Shakes’ Zac Cockrell in her sprawling red-and-black clad touring ensemble, Howard’s onto a whole new thing – sweet soul music, with an occasional bitter edge.

“Thank you for braving the sun for us,” she smiled a few songs into the 4pm hour.

Truth be told, the ’Bama-born singer’s modern soul revue added to the afternoon’s stifling heat. Few complained. There’s something healing and warm in the best possible way about the music the 30-year-old sensation now makes.

Even when stridently documenting the trials and tribulations of growing up mixed-race on “Goat Head” (“I guess I'm not supposed to mind because I’m brown – I’m not black”), or calling for a sane revolution on “13th Century Metal” (“I dedicate my spirit in the service of what is good and fair and righteous”), there’s always a life-affirming quality shining through.

For the most part, Howard stuck to playing Jaime, albeit in a juggled order. Three times, she offered roots material, including Prince’s “The Breakdown” and the Beatles’ “Revolution” given a makeover akin to the one Earth, Wind & Fire gave “Got to Get You Into My Life.” The roof truly got raised with a note-and-nuance-perfect rendition of Jackie Wilson’s “Higher and Higher” so accurate, you fully expected the trumpet break and Howard to execute Wilson’s death-defying knee drops!

Brittany Howard

Saturday, Oct. 5, 4:00pm, Honda stage

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Brittany Howard, ACL Fest 2019, Alabama Shakes, Zac Cockrell, Prince, the Beatles, Donny Hathaway, Jackie Wilson, Earth, Wind & Fire

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