Just when we think we know it all about music along comes someone like John Howard to introduce us to a whole new wave of songs and artists we’d never heard of.
Howard is something of an expert in hidden talent himself. The former CBS artist’s career failed to take off in the 1970s but after a stint in music A&R, he has been rediscovered in an internet age and has spent the last few years producing and releasing a raft of artistically impressive releases from his new home in Spain.
His latest release sees him helping us to discover more hidden talent. Called Loved Songs this five track EP is an eclectic mix of cover versions of tracks that have inspired him over the years. While admittedly Paul McCartney and Rufus Wainwright are no strangers to the limelight, in McCartney’s case Howard has chosen one of his more obscure tracks, I’m Carrying, a B-side from his 1978 single London Town. Poses by Wainwright is the most well known of the five tracks featured.
For the remaining three artists Howard has chosen those who, while critically acclaimed, have not had the profile or commercial success befitting their talent. A line that arguably sums up Howard’s career too.
This includes What’s The Difference Chapters 1-4 by the late 1960s San Francisco songwriter Scott McKenzie, arguably always the bridesmaid and never the bride compared to his peers including the Mamas and the Papas and The Beach Boys.
London Loves You by Anthony Reynolds, who was frontman with the band Jack (later Jacques) in the 1990s, is another undiscovered gem. I’d never even heard of Reynolds before hearing Howard’s cover version and he is now firmly on my radar as an artist to check out. London Loves You is a sublime ballad, which Howard lovingly plays here.
Highlight of the EP though is Blackpatch by the late Laura Nyro, the 1960s and 1970s New York folk singer with a showtune heart whose eccentric singing style gave her critical acclaim but not the commercial success her songwriting deserved. Like Reynolds I’d never heard of Nyro before. But on the strength of Howard’s version of Blackpatch I’ve now bought the album it originally featured on, 1970’s Christmas and the Beads of Sweat. Across all the covers it is this one by Howard that achieves the rarest of feats of almost bettering the original. I love the original, but Howard’s optimistic vocals and bouncy delivery brings out a sense of fun in the track that Nyro’s melancholy vocal style could never quite achieve.
by Joe Lepper