REVIEW: Jenn Howard — Valiant Woman (LP)
With a bouncy swing in its step, the highly-engaging grooves of Valiant Woman’s title track fill the air around us with a delicate rhythm that is certain to have plenty of folks moving their hips well before we hit the first chorus in the song. In this superb cut from Jenn Howard’s second studio album, we’re not given any opportunities to take a breath in preparation for what we’re about to enjoy — Howard isn’t wasting time with long, drawn-out intros here. From the title cut to the more texturally expressive beats in “Take a Hand” or the jazz-inspired swagger ala “Microphone,” all of this material seems to be packing more of a melodic punch than some of the records getting big press out of the mainstream this spring can boast.
“Hold On” is the first truly complex song in the tracklist of Valiant Woman, but it doesn’t throw a wrench in the gears of the momentum that gets us going in the first couple of tracks here. This tune brings down the tension of the beat to clear some space for Howard’s vocal to be the omnipotent force it can be when nothing is competing for the spotlight in the mix, and while “Wanted” turns up the heat once more, we segue from one song to the next as if they were always meant to be consumed in a medley. Howard is always spot-on with her singing whether she’s churning in a piece like “Hold On” or getting into the grind of a groove-focused “Pocket Fox;” after all, she’s no rookie when it comes to making a compelling rhythm all the better with her signature vocal.
The latter half of Valiant Woman is made up of more contrasting material, starting with “I Can’t Call,” and I must say that it adds a layer of charisma to the tracklist that you just don’t find every day in the pop genre anymore. “I Can’t Call” plays every bit the part of a concert-starter, while the more elaborately poetic work “Where’d You Go” feels like the culmination of an entire show’s worth of emotionality in a single performance. “Lay Down the Law” is a little edgier than the two tracks preceding it, but it leads us into a supple song in “Better Than You Think” that cathartically brings things full circle in a way that no other track here could have.
Valiant Woman concludes with the recut “Lay Down the Law (radio edit),” which presents the audience with a fly-on-the-wall perspective of the pop centerpiece Jenn Howard uses that is almost guaranteed to make anyone listening feel connected with her unrelenting commitment to the medium. She’s all-in on these verses, and more specifically, the harmonies that give them an unmistakable color indicative of provocative neo-soul music. I was somewhat familiar with her last album before getting into Valiant Woman, but after hearing this most recent release, I would consider myself quite the fan indeed. Jenn Howard is a legend in the making, and her authenticity in this second album proves as much.