This may just be John Howard’s best album to date. It’s just so wonderfully simple, featuring only his time-capsule preserved voice and piano.
Apart from simplicity why else does it work so well? For a start, his vocals are excellent and deserve to take centre stage. After his first ultimately doomed pop career in the 1970s a two decade hiatus followed. This allowed his voice to be preserved, tonsils tucked away in a jar (perhaps by the door Eleanor Rigby style), ready for his comeback.
This latest release from John Howard also works because his soundscape skills and home production techniques learned in recent years have meant he can really go to town on vocal layering. At times there’s an entire Howard choir involved and they sound sensational, giving it a dream like quality throughout.
There’s also a strong sense of freedom on this record, making him bold enough to let the songs carry on until he feels he’s done with them. In two tracks it take more than nine wonderful minutes for that to happen.
To release tracks of such length you really need to nail the songwriting and here he does that well with the piano providing a hypnotic, film score rhythm to the vocal melody. The track Outward in particular has that in abundance with its dark, foreboding piano reminding me of the music to Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s stairway to heaven scene in their 1946 film A Matter of Life and Death. The layered vocals really work well here, giving an added, angelic quality.
There is space for one traditionally structured pop song, In Pig and Pies, which comes in at a relatively concise four minutes. The Howard choir really gets going here as the decades cascade past in the lyrics. It reminded me a little of Howard’s track from You Shall Go To the Ball, The Deal, which also channelled the spirit of Denis Wilson so well.
We have said it before that Howard may be one of the most independent artists we have encountered in our six years of reviewing. Part of this is because he’s experienced the constraints of the 1970s music industry so revels in the freedom that internet promotion, self production and independent labels can bring.
Across the Door Sill is another great example of an artist playing to his strengths, of vocal ability and songwriting, and carried out very much on his own terms.
by Joe Lepper
John Howard – Across the Door Sill is released on Occultation Recordings in November