Categorized | Album Reviews

John Howard – Songs For Randall EP

Posted on 14 April 2016 by Joe

There’s something very Reithian about John Howard’s cover series of EPs, that carry the unofficial strapline of informing and educating, as well as entertaining the listener.

His 2013 Loved Songs EP introduced me to singer songwriter Laura Nyro, who always seemed to reside in the shadow of her contemporary Carole King. His cover of her wonderfully upbeat Blackpatch prompted this reviewer to go out and buy her early 1970s album Christmas and the Beads of Sweat, which that track features on.

Then in 2014 his Songs for Someone EP offered an entertaining education to some lesser known artists he admires and has collaborated with: Darren Hayman, Alex Highton, Ralegh Long, Robert Rotifer and Ian Button. His cover version of Highton’s Song For Someone was a particularly stand out here.

John Howard

John Howard

Now it’s the turn of Randy Newman to be the subject of Howard’s mission to entertain, inform and educate.

As a Newman newbie I’ve listened to very little of a lengthy back catalogue that dates back to the early 1960s. His track Baltimore, covered so brilliantly by Nina Simone, and his soundtrack for the Toy Story series of films have shamefully been the extent of my knowledge so far.

To enlighten me Howard has served up five of his favourite Newman tracks, mostly made famous by others from his fledgling songwriting career in the 1960s.

First up is Nobody Needs Your Love, originally recorded by Gene Pitney with all of the lavish early 1960s pop production you’d expect. Here Howard focuses on the sad lyrics far more while retaining the excellently catchy chorus. I’m going to say right off the bat that I prefer Howard’s version here, but mainly because I’ve always found Pitney’s vocals too nasally. It’s also interesting to hear this low-key, sadder take on what is essentially pure 1960s pop.

I Think Its Going to Rain Today is up next. This is one of Newman’s most covered tracks and one he also recorded for his debut 1968 album Randy Newman. Since Julius La Rosa first recorded it in 1966 there have been 65 known covers from artists as diverse as Leonard Nimoy, Dusty Springfield, Bette Midler Peggy Lee and even Val Kilmer. The source material is so diluted that comparisons are futile, which leaves us just with Howard, his marvellous voice, a piano and some great songwriting. This track was a real eye opener as I’ve heard it so many times before but never even knew it was by Newman. Duly informed, educated and entertained.

More education follows with Just One Smile, a relentlessly upbeat track I knew from the Blood, Sweat and Tears version in 1968 but one that Howard is more familiar with through the Gene Pitney version. As with Nobody Needs Your Love, Howard’s version is more melancholy, although the vocal arrangements on the chorus give more than a nod to this track’s 1960s pop heyday.

Snow, originally written by Newman for Harry Nilsson’s 1970s album Nilsson Sings Newman, emerges as my favourite. This is a track I’d never heard before that is quite, quite beautiful. Howard’s version is full of respect and after hearing Nilsson’s version I think I’ve found my next album purchase.

Feels Like Home wraps up the EP. This is one of Newman’s relatively recent songs and one that he recorded himself, for 1995’s album Randy Newman’s Faust. It’s another remarkable song with Howard’s vocals offering a completely different take. While Newman’s soft singing style makes him sound vulnerable, Howard’s strong vocals give this song a more uplifting quality, especially on the chorus.

I’m looking forward to my next musical education already from Howard’s next EP.

8/10

by Joe Lepper

 

John Howard – Songs for Randall EP can be downloaded via iTunes.

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