I should have known that fiercely independent singer songwriter John Howard would produce an album containing just one 37-minute-long song. Silly me for doubting that could be the case.
At first, I thought it was a mistake and my new computer’s ability to decipher audio files was on the blink.
Dismissing the first review copy sent to me as an error its taken me a while to get round to reviewing this latest album from Howard, who kindly sent it again.
On the song From the Far Side of A Near Miss Howard’s same vocals are there, obviously. There’s the same production style, from his home studio in Spain, and same sense of melody and drama.
But as ever with each new release by Howard, who made his name in the 1970s and for the last two decades has been blazing a trail of independence with his releases, there are marked differences.
On this year’s Look: The Unknown Story of Danielle Du Bois, he took us on a rollercoaster journey through the incredible life of the late April Ashley, one of the first people in the UK to have sex reassignment surgery.
He’s evoked the Beach Boys with his soundscapes on 2012’s You Shall Go to the Ball.
And on 2015’s John Howard and the Night Mail he teamed up with the likes of Robert Rotifer, former Death in Vegas man Ian Button and Paul Weller’s bassist Andy Lewis for one of the year’s alternative pop gems.
On From the Far Side of a Near Miss (released by KoolKat Musik) he admits to challenging himself, with what may be his closest return to the 1970s yet, inspired by Roy Harper and the Incredible String Band.
It starts and ends with the piano keeping the pace well as if we are walking with Howard through an unspecified town, as he chats about the far sides of near misses in life and how “here we are with the past behind us”. It’s quite the chat.
As the instrumentation and vocal layers build up the piano’s fast walking pace continues. While there may be near misses, the ever reliable piano is always there, a little like it is for Howard perhaps.
It’s a lovely chorus by the way that keeps coming back.
Ten minutes in and I still don’t want it to end. The strolling piano still here, the chorus calling out through doorways we pass and continue our musical chat with Howard.
It’s around this stage that I’m now utterly involved in the song and its recurring chorus and piano. It mustn’t end. Have I been hypnotised?
We’re seeing tramps in the street, glancing at a woman in a café, a priest, a kid reading Tolstoy.
Who else will we meet? Memories of his musical heroes from Dylan to Bowie, that’s who. And, of course, that wonderful chorus.
Special mention must go to the low-key defiance at the world with the line “waltz our fears away”.
The final few minutes offer a more wistful ambience as we, the listeners, with Howard reach our destination, wherever that may be, as we look ahead to the next day.
I think I just need to reiterate how controversial it is for an artist, who first started recording around five decades ago, to release an album that features just one song, which manages to be utterly captivating throughout.
by Joe Lepper