BEVERLY — Jamila Woods keeps expanding her artistry. On her new album “Water Made Us” (Jagjaguwar), released Oct. 13, the Beverly native and acclaimed poet and singer/songwriter uses airy R&B arrangements to explore her relationship history.
For example, Woods’ “Boomerang” considers if an ex can undo their mistakes, so for the video she learned Jenn Freeman’s choreography forward and backward.
And Woods was intrigued by the loss of control inherent in shooting underwater, so she learned to pose with photographer Birdee for the album’s cover art.
The shoot and preparatory swim lessons taught her to trust her body and helped her overcome an aversion to water stemming from childhood trauma.
“A lot of the album is challenging me to learn new things, try new things, take risks, and not know exactly how it’s going to look,” she said. “I’m happy with how it came out.”
While Woods’ first two LPs focused on her South Side upbringing and her artistic lineage of Black innovators, “Water Made Us” traces the emotional arc of a romance, enduring personal tumult to finding peace and greater knowledge of self.
On lead single “Tiny Garden,” Woods celebrates the mundanity of domestic love, evoking a tiny garden that she will feed and shelter with dedication every day.
“I think a lot about the life of the music that I make. It’s not just the album, it’s performing it for years or my whole life after,” she said. “I wanted songs that could grow with me, that weren’t just one moment but more aspirational.”
The songs on “Water Made Us” began as reflections in Woods’ journal entries, which she carried with her to studio sessions. She also created an “album bible” to share with her collaborator and record label, inspired by a similar practice used by filmmaker friends.
With the project complete, Woods can trace the evolution of each song.
“I had written, ‘I want to write a song that sounds like the space below crying,’ and to me that’s ‘Wreckage Room,’” she said.
Woods recorded most of her vocals with Los Angeles musician McClenney, who’s also credited as executive producer. Woods credits their working relationship to lengthy Zoom calls where they discovered each other’s “Virgo energy.”
“The friendship was so important,” she said. “We would both talk about our relationships the way you would with a friend, and that created a really safe space.”
Woods wrote “Boomerang” with British singer Nao and her songwriting partners while she was on tour with Bonobo in London, an efficient session where Nao provided “effortless melodies” before she left to pick up her child from school.
The tracklist is also filled with collaborators from Chicago, relationships that date back a decade to Woods’ time in alt-pop duo M&O. Nico Segal’s trumpet echoes through “I Miss All My Exes,” returning the favor after Woods appeared on his album, “Tell The Ghost Welcome Home,” earlier this year.
Saba appears on “Practice”, rapping through the daze of a new love over a bubbly bassline. Woods has featured the West Side rapper on all of her albums.
“I feel like I’m his biggest fan,” she said.
Woods wrote and recorded with Peter Cottontale at his Chicago studio, where they rushed to contribute to each other’s ideas. He’s featured on “Thermostat” and will appear on an upcoming remix of another album track.
The artist doesn’t take her musical community for granted.
“Maybe since I’ve stayed in Chicago for so long, we have a very particular way of interacting,” she said. “‘Yeah, I’ll make a song with you. I’ll go on your album, you go on mine! We support each other.’”
Woods will take her new songs on tour in early 2024, including a Chicago stop Feb. 23 at the Vic Theatre. She’s excited to play intimate venues, to bring performers and audience together, to see where her art practice leads her next.
“I have a lot of curiosity for what is going to happen to me,” she said.
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