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New Music Friday: Brittany Howard and a new era of musical masters

A woman wearing sunglasses looks at the camera with rolling hills in the background and a blurred effect surrounding her face.
Bobbi Rich
Courtesy of the artist

If you could travel back in time to 2012 and listen to "Hold On," the breakthrough single from Brittany Howard's band Alabama Shakes for the first time, you might still be bowled over by the power of the singer's vocal talent, or the magnetically laid-back groove emanating from the speakers, or Howard's obvious, sparkling star quality.

But would you peg her as an inevitable solo artist who would soon be one of rock and soul's most restless and ambitious talents? A dozen years later, the answer is irrefutable.

On this week's episode of New Music Friday, Ann Powers and Sheldon Pearce dig into Howard's brand new and, yes, masterful album, What Now. Listening to it alongside other records also out on Feb. 9, 2024 — Joel Ross's nublues and Kali Malone's All Life Long — they find themselves wondering about the various forms of musical virtuosity to be found in 2024, and whether we, as listeners, still place a high enough value on that particular quality.

Featured albums

  • Brittany Howard, What Now
  • Joel Ross, nublues
  • Boldy James & Nicholas Craven, Penalty of Leadership (released Jan. 12)
  • Kali Malone, All Life Long
  • Sonic Youth, Walls Have Ears
  • Usher, Coming Home

Other notable albums out Feb. 9

  • Madi Diaz, Weird Faith• Helado Negro, PHASOR
  • Declan McKenna, What Happened To The Beach?
  • Chelsea Wolfe, She Reaches Out To She Reaches Out To She
  • Little Simz, Drop 7 EP
  • Shygirl, Club Shy EP
  • Kelela, RAVE:N, The Remixes
  • Mk.gee, Two Star & The Dream Police
  • Ducks Ltd., Harm's Way
  • David Nance & Mowed Sound, David Nance & Mowed Sound
  • Split System, Vol. 2
  • The Telescopes, Growing Eyes Become String