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New songs by Brittany Howard, Jim Kweskin and Colby T. Helms crackle with energy


This is FRESH AIR. Rock critic Ken Tucker has been listening to a lot of new music and has selected songs by three very different artists, music from former Alabama Shakes lead singer Brittany Howard, veteran folk singer Jim Kweskin, who has an album of duets, and young country music singer Colby T. Helms, out with a new debut album. Ken says what they each have in common is a crackling, creative energy that transcends age or genre.


BRITTANY HOWARD: (Singing) Headfirst. Don't think, listen what I'm feeling first. I came, I saw, unconscious. The best time that I ever had, that's when the worst times started. I followed you and didn't look back. I didn't know love could feel like that. I ran right through them red flags, I ran right through them.

KEN TUCKER, BYLINE: Brittany Howard made an impact a decade ago as the lead singer of the Alabama Shakes, using her rumbling voice in a southern rock and soul context. Then her solo career took off in 2019 with the Grammy-winning album "Jaime." Now she's back with a new solo effort called "What Now." What she's up to now is a collection filled with thick slabs of reverberation and clustered instrumentation. Her voice is one among many competing sounds. One of the album's most successful experiments is the stirring funk of "Another Day."


HOWARD: (Singing) I believe in a world where we can go outside and be who we want and see who we like and love each other through this wild ride. And love each other through this wild ride. We were born in a time to change the paradigm. Peace is the prize of our timeline. Yes, I know we can do it 'cause we must do it. I know we can do it, so let's get to it. I am in love when they tell me to hide, to fear my neighbor, to close my mind. I am having the time of my life. I am having the time of my life.

TUCKER: A voice every bit as distinctive as Brittany Howard's is the nasal croon of Jim Kweskin, the 83-year-old folk and blues singer whose new album is called "Never Too Late: Duets With My Friends." Among his duet pals is Maria Muldaur, once a member of the Jim Kweskin Jug Band in the 1960s. Muldaur's voice, both here and on her own recent albums, is still sure and strong. And she and Kweskin offer a wonderfully jaunty version of a song from the 1930s called "Let's Get Happy Together."


JIM KWESKIN: (Singing) Well, you're high, so am I. Let's be happy together.

MARIA MULDAUR: (Singing) You're blue, me too. Let's forget about the stormy weather.

KWESKIN: (Singing) Well, you lost your baby and I lost mine.

MULDAUR: (Singing) I got a nickel, and you got a dime.

KWESKIN: (Singing) Oh, we'll drown our troubles in wine.

JIM KWESKIN AND MARIA MULDAUR: (Singing) And we'll be happy together.

KWESKIN: (Singing) Why should we worry? Just because they turned us down?

MULDAUR: (Singing) Come on, baby. Let's show them.

KWESKIN: (Singing) What'll we show them?

MULDAUR: (Singing) We're going to show them that we're not clowns.

KWESKIN: (Singing) Now, you can't dance, and I can't sing.

MULDAUR: (Singing) I've got the finger, and you've got the ring.

KWESKIN: We'll get the parts then to fix this thing.

KWESKIN AND MULDAUR: (Singing) And we'll be happy together.

TUCKER: At the opposite end of the age scale is Colby T. Helms, a 21-year-old singer guitarist whose debut album is called "Tales Of Misfortune." Helms emphasizes his roots in rural Virginia, singing in a horse croak, surrounded by fiddles and mandolins that fill in the sort of country music that's at least two generations older than Helms. Here he is getting his heart broken by a girl named Leanne.


COLBY T HELMS: (Singing) I tried going through the window last night, but the door was locked when I tried to get in. Lying on my back, I felt like a kid again. When I looked in those big brown eyes, I knew what you were going to say - should've stayed in the county anyway. Think of all the times I listened to those white lies, something about another town, something about another guy. Baby, I don't understand. I've always been a loser, but now I finally got my own band.

TUCKER: What I like most about "Leanne" is that when he gets to the line, I've always been a loser, but now I finally got my own band - that's the moment in any other song when things would turn, when the girl finally falls for him. But nope. He proceeds to sing, that's not good enough for Leanne. And you know what I say? Good for Leanne. She's holding out for a guy who satisfies her own desires. And in the meantime, Colby T. Helms gets a very nice song out of having his heart broken. Smart kids, both of them.

MOSLEY: Ken Tucker reviewed new music from Brittany Howard, Jim Kweskin and Colby T. Helms. To keep up with what's on the show and get highlights of our interviews, follow us on Instagram @nprfreshair. If you'd like to catch up on interviews you missed, like our conversation with Michele Norris on how Americans really talk and think about race, or Mark Daley, who talks about the joy and pain of being a foster parent, check out our podcast. You'll find lots of FRESH AIR interviews.

FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham. Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Roberta Shorrock, Ann Marie Baldonado, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, Heidi Saman, Therese Madden, Seth Kelley and Susan Nyakundi. Our digital media producer is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Thea Chaloner directed today's show. For Terry Gross, I'm Tonya Mosley. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ken Tucker reviews rock, country, hip-hop and pop music for Fresh Air. He is a cultural critic who has been the editor-at-large at Entertainment Weekly, and a film critic for New York Magazine. His work has won two National Magazine Awards and two ASCAP-Deems Taylor Awards. He has written book reviews for The New York Times Book Review and other publications.