Tag Archive | "John Howard"

John Howard – To The Left of the Moon’s Reflection

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John Howard – To The Left of the Moon’s Reflection

Posted on 06 August 2020 by Joe

The pandemic is inescapable across album number 17 from 1970s singer/songwriter turned 21st century indie artist John Howard.

Writing and recording began in his home studio in Spain during the winter of 2019 and carried on into Spring this year, when the world suddenly locked down and we started living in fear of our lives from Covid-19.

So as a listener in a Covid-19 world it is a slightly odd experience. Almost every new release’s mood and lyrics sound like they are about the pandemic and lockdown. It’s as if the artists like Howard are emerging from lockdown, even though they can no longer play live. But they can take small comfort in digital releases and online gigs.

I wonder what I’d have made of this album without a great big lumbering health crisis as the backdrop of its release this summer?

Among my favourites is Centuries, a tale of love and nature, but the spectre of pandemic comes through again in the lyrics. The lonely old tree it describes will always be there. When the world was right, wrong, and hopefully right again.Any of the reasons I warm to this particular track is because it features the full John Howard choir of vocal layering. Howard is responsible for all the instruments and vocals by the way.

While some of Howard’s many releases, since his return to recording at the turn of the century, have been piano based, this features a range of keyboards and acoustic guitar, mastered by long term collaborator Ian Button.

This collection has a nice mid tempo feel to it. In addition, there’s a melancholy feel to most tracks but not too downbeat.

I know I do disservice to see the pandemic across the tracks. There’s other subjects at work here. But as a post lockdown release it sets the mood perfectly, whether intended or not.

8/10

By Joe Lepper

To The Left of the Moon’s Reflection is available via John’s website, as well as the usual digital channels. It is released in America via Kool Kat Musik.

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Covid-19 lockdown songs and videos to impress

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Covid-19 lockdown songs and videos to impress

Posted on 15 May 2020 by Joe

A perfect turn of phrase and video collaborations are among the innovative ways musicians are tackling Covid-19 lockdown.

No gigs, no recording studio dates. Covid-19 lockdown has pretty much killed off much of music industry.

Well, so we thought.

Nick Parker is among musicians being creative online amid lockdown

Being creative types, musicians have been busy being innovative at home and using tools like Zoom in new ways. Online gigs are now commonplace. Some you pay for to watch. Some free but with donations asked for. Others are for charity.

Among the most innovative we’ve spotted is Somerset songwriter Nick Parker’s Stranger Tunes series of online collaborations. Here he teams up with a bunch of musicians online and they perform some interesting cover versions. Mostly they are complete strangers. Nick and co’s take on Midlake’s Roscoe has been a particular highlight for us.

Meanwhile, musicians have been busy putting the whole, crazy mess of our pandemic world into song.

John Howard’s Stillbeat of A Silent Day,  is particularly poignant. The fiercely independent singer songwriter’s renaissance in recent years was recorded from his home in Spain and sums up how the world is so very, very different.

Using Howard’s multi-vocals on the tracking and backed by percussion and accordion its sound is still fundamentally what he does best – a bloke with a good voice playing the piano.

It’s lyrically though that its particularly impressive.

There’s some nice turns of phrases, with the title itself summing it all up so well. The “stillbeat of a silent day” indeed.

Other lyrics here that impress include “Smiles beneath the masks where no party plays. Joining gloved hands for the angels care. Cheers from the balconies’ grateful gaze”.

No, its ok, (dabs tissue to face), I’ve just got something in my eye.

Elsewhere, John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats has also summed up the current craziness well in verse, on Exegetic Chains from his lockdown home produced album Songs for Pierre Chuvin.

“Keep the chains tight. Make it through this year….if it kills you outright.” It’s a nod to one of his most well known tracks This Year but like Howard has managed to put our feeling perfectly in song.

What other lockdown songs or virtual gigs have impressed you? Let us know in the comments below.

By Joe Lepper

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John Howard –It’s Not All Over Yet

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John Howard –It’s Not All Over Yet

Posted on 03 February 2020 by Joe

John Howard has passed on his new single and as ever we are impressed.

It’s cover version this time from the 1970s singer songwriter who rebooted himself at the turn of the 21st century with a string of impressive albums ever since.

This time its It’s Not All Over Yet by his You are the Cosmos label mate Daniel McGeever, a track I wasn’t familier with until now.

The track  is from McGeever’s album Cross the Water (2017) and written for his father who died just a few days before it was recorded. This is particularly poignant for Howard, whose own father was poorly around the same time and passed away in 2018.

Here it break downs the original to its bearest bones. Piano accompaniment and vocals. It’s a lovely song and another great choice from Howard as he champions emerging and less well known tracks.

Among the best of these in recent year’s has been his cover of Alex Highton’s beautiful Song For Someone, which deserves far more attention.

Hearing this also made me immediately check out McGeever, who like Highton and, indeed Howard himself, is certainly deserving of more coverage.

It’s Not All Over Yet can be ordered from Amazon or iTunes.

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Best Indie and Alternative Albums 2019

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Best Indie and Alternative Albums 2019

Posted on 13 December 2019 by Joe

Our best albums 2019 list features the 15 albums that we can’t stop listening to.

What a year! It’s been beset with political turmoil. But in terms of music its been another fantastic 12 months.

This time around 15 albums have impressed us for our annual round up. This ranges from a return to form for one of our favourite US acts to an intriguing funk concept album about Trump.

Lots of our other top acts over the last few years have also marked 2019 in style with stellar releases. There’s plenty of interesting new acts as well that impressed during the year.

But enough from us. Here’s the 15 best albums of 2019 that we urge you to seek out and investigate yourselves.

15.The Mountain Goats – In League with Dragons

The Mountain Goats - In League with Dragons

John Darnielle and co once again excel with  a collection taking in themes of celebrity and this time the mythical heroes of their youth. Here the production is even more sumptious than it has been in recent years, with one of our favourite artists Owen Pallet on production desk duties. Read our full review here.

14. John Howard – Cut the Wire

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The singer songwriter’s fierce sense of independence rises to the fore on this collection that has a far greater focus on his 1960s and 1970s musical influences, sitting somewhere between The Beach Boys and whimsical English pop. Read the full review here.

13. Jenny Lewis – On The Line

Jenny Lewis On the Line

We may miss the sparkling pop of Rilo Kiley but Jenny Lewis is still delivering great songs as a solo artist. Continuing on from where 2014’s The Voyager left off she cements her role as one of the best country-pop balladeers around.

12. Stealing Sheep – Big Wows

Stealing Sheep

The evolution of Stealing Sheep continues and any of the more folksy pastoral elements of their first two albums  have been cast aside in favour of a greater pure-pop approach. The good news is that it suits them perfectly, and anyone who has seen them live this year can attest to what a great glittery performance that is. Additionally, ‘Jokin’ Me’ has to be the best song released this year and deserves to be a chart smash (if that even exists as a thing anymore?).

11. The National – I Am Easy To Find

TheNational_IAmEasyToFind

The “stadium band it’s ok to like” continue to deliver the goods on their eight album. An array of guest female vocalists add some difference to the sound this time around and compliment Matt Berninger’s smooth croon perfectly.

10. The New Pornographers – In The Morse Code of Break Lights

New Pornographers

The second Dan Bejar free New Pornographers album in a row may miss his contributions but the rest of the band do their best to make up for that. Simi Stone joins the band, adding a third female vocalist, and AC Newman delivers some pitch-perfect tunes. ‘You’ll Need A Backseat Driver’ is worth the admission fee alone.

9. Purple Mountains – Purple Mountain

Purple Mountains

Purple Mountains is notable as David Berman’s first post-Silver Jews album, and his first recorded work in over a decade. It is also notable as one of the most consistent records of his fascinating career. Sadly it stands as his final work, tragically he committed suicide in August this year.

8. Guided By Voices – Warp and Woof

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This is just one of the three albums the prolific band released this year. Originally coming out as a set of EPs the songs are short, urgent and focused. It is a purple patch for the lo-fi legends but this stands out (just) as the best of the bunch.

7. Pip Blom – Boat

Pip Blom

The Dutch indie popsters have a very identifiable sound, and a very appealing one. Their debut album continues on from their excellent early singles and is one of the most enjoyable, and freshest, releases of the year.

6. Twilight Sad – It Won/t Be Like This All the Time

Album number five for the Scottish act is full of epic melodies and meloncholy lyrics as they cement their place as one of the most innovate indie rock and alternative bands in the UK. James Alexander Graham’s downright beautiful vocals elevate them even further. VTr and The Arbor are among our favourite tracks here.

5. Penelope Isles – Until the Tide Creeps In

Penelope Isles

Brighton base dPenelope Isles play a melodic dream pop, their debut album has a scope and sophistication that reveals their music school background. In lazy journo style I hereby dub them “the British Deerhunter”.

4. School of Language – 45

School of Language live in Bristol in 2014 (Pic by Joe Lepper)

School of Language live in Bristol in 2014 (Pic by Joe Lepper)

David Brewis from Field Music turns his attention to Donald Trump and the US far right on this cheeky, funky and in places angry collection. The lyrics left us nodding in agreement and chuckling, while David’s inventive take on his influences of Prince and Talking Heads continues to impress us. Read the full review here.

3. Corridor – Junior

Junior - Corridor

Sub-Pop’s Corridor are a French Canadian band that deliver a pulsing guitar pop that evokes post-punk and the pulsing rhythms of Stereolab in equal measure. It is epic and rhythmic and melodic and one of our favourite discoveries of the year.

2. Fontaines DC – Dogrel

Fontaines DC at Glastonbury 2019, photo by Joe Lepper

Fontaines DC at Glastonbury 2019, photo by Joe Lepper

This  Dublin band’s stunning debut sounds like a blend of Joy Division, The Smiths and the Buzzcocks. While lyrically they are cemented in their Dublin background, especially with Grian Chatten’s powerful vocals. They impressed us so much at Glastonbury 2019 that we rushed out to buy this debut – there’s not many live acts that have the power and talent to do that.

1. Deerhunter – Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared?

deerhunter-why-hasnt-everything-already-disappeared-review-1547764133-640x640

Their best album since 2010’s melody packed release Halcyon Digest? We certainly think so. In fact its filled with even more melody and inventive ways to present a song, veering from classic pop  to alternative rock at will on this all killer, no filler collection.

Compiled by Joe Lepper and Dorian Rogers

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John Howard – Cut the Wire

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John Howard – Cut the Wire

Posted on 15 March 2019 by Joe

It’s not often that reignited 1970s singer-songwriter John Howard gets compared to the late great Mark E Smith’s band The Fall. In fact this may well be the first time.

But John Peel’s quote about each new release by Smith and co is particularly apt here as Howard’s albums are also “always the same, always different”.

What is always there is his songwriting prowess and wonderful vocals, preserved during a two decade or so hiatus between his aborted 1970s career and his recent comeback. The defiant sense of independence in the stories he tells is also present.

1 Cover

But each time there’s a difference. On 2012’s You Shall Go To the Ball we found out that his home recording skills included an expertise in creating trippy soundscapes. On his John Howard and the Nightmail collaboration with Robert Rotifer, Ian Button and Paul Weller’ bassist Andy Lewis, he added a strong slice of 1960s pop to the mix. And on Across the Door Sill a delicacy of touch in production came to the fore, on this largely vocals and piano release.

His latest, Cut the Wire, though sees Howard create a collection with a far greater focus on his 1960s and 1970s influences. The result fits wonderfully somewhere between the Beach Boys and English whimsical pop.

French Likely Lads

Opener So here I go, with accordion intro and playful pop, sounds like the perfect theme tune to a French version of The Likely Lads, should Probablement les garçons ever be made.

In contrast, Pre-dawn sees Howard at his most McCartney-esque., with strings and Eleanor Rigby feel.

Becoming is one of a number of perfect pictched melancholy piano ballads that are pure Howard before the album goes full Wilson brother tribute towards the end. On We are Howard’s admiration for Dennis Wilson is clear for all to hear and will please those, like this reviewer, who consider 2012’s revisting of The Deal as one of Howard’s finest moments

Nod to the Wilsons

Brian Wilson gets a solid nod and a wink on the penultimate track of Cut the Wire Jean Genet Just Imagined. This and We are are perfect together and showcase how far Howard’s production skills have come.

To finish it off he simply eases out a six minute epic Long Since, as you do.

Cut the Wire’s extra focus on paying tribute to classic pop maestros of the 1960s and 1970s adds something more into the mix for fans and looks likely to attract new admirers too.

9/10

by Joe Lepper

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John Howard – Songs From The Morning

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John Howard – Songs From The Morning

Posted on 05 February 2018 by Joe

In the year he becomes a pensioner John Howard continues his prolific renaissance with another of his regular EPs that pays tribute to those who have influenced him.

Previous collections have introduced us to some real gems. From the likes of Randy Newman and Laura Nyro to some a welcome revisiting of the music of lesser known artists, such as Alex Highton’s beautiful A Song For Someone.

John Howard

John Howard

Here, as John Howard marks his 65th year, he is focusing on his folk roots with some tender versions of well known and rare songs from the 1960s and 1970s by Sandy Denny, Tom Springfield, Nick Drake, Tim Buckley and the Incredible String Band’s Mike Heron.

Among the most passionate is his take on Nick Drake’s From the Morning, which closes the tragic singer songwriter’s final album Pink Moon (1972). As John Howard says in his accompanying press release “it’s astonishing that he could write such an upliftingly beautiful song, celebrating nature and his delight at the changing of day into night” when he was falling to an abyss of mental illness that claimed his life. Here Howard gives it an even more uplifting feel, with accordion and piano creating a wall of sound for the splendor of life that Drake describes.

John Howard’s take on Denny’s The Lady and Buckley’s Morning Glory are two further high points. The simplicity of the production on these is particular strong, focusing on Howard’s two key strengths – his wonderfully preserved pop vocals and piano playing.

8/10

by Joe Lepper

For more information on John Howard please visit his Facebook page.

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Granite Shore – Suspended Second

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Granite Shore – Suspended Second

Posted on 06 November 2017 by Joe

With Brexit approaching we could perhaps all do with listening to this second album from Granite Shore – the musical project of Nick Halliwell, who runs Exeter based label Occultation Records.

Here all our fears of the unknown, the anger (well for remainers at least) of the decision and sense of hopelessness are laid bare.

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There’s anger too that his fellow artists have largely ignored the issue. This comes out on I Suppose So when he sings “I’m not sure this is my responsibility, but no-one’s stepping forward as far as I can see”.

The tone also helps convey this swell of emotions. This is particularly the case with Halliwell’s deep, quivering at times vocals, that perfectly encapsulates the UK’s new vulnerability.

Opener So It Begins is a great example of this. Here Halliwell’s calm turns to rage at what he calls Britain’s “self-harming anxiety episode”.

Brexit is indeed scary. One minute we are nestled nicely in the world’s most powerful economic, political and social organisation. The next we’ll just a be a rainy, tiny island. Trump one side and on the other the fall out from a bitter divorce battle.

The 1970s pop feel from Granite Shore also helps give the album a wistful feel, and a reminder of happier times in Europe. It was after all the decade where our relationship with our continental neighbours was brand new and the Eurovision song contest actually produced quality pop.

“A pop record is the obvious format for in-depth social-political analysis so I allowed my lifelong love of ABBA free rein,” says Halliwell of the album’s style.

There’s a cast of label mates to help out too. John Howard is perhaps the most noticeable. His beautifully preserved 1970s pop vocals prove ideal for what Halliwell is trying to achieve.

In keeping with Occultation’s focus on presentation with its albums there is also a deluxe version of this Granite Shore offering, featuring separate stereo and mono mixes.

For more information about Granite Shore visit Occultation’s website here.

8/10

by Joe Lepper

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John Howard – Across the Door Sill

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John Howard – Across the Door Sill

Posted on 07 November 2016 by Joe

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.

acrossthedoorsill500

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.

9/10

by Joe Lepper

John Howard – Across the Door Sill is released on Occultation Recordings in November

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Robert Rotifer – Not Your Door

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Robert Rotifer – Not Your Door

Posted on 03 August 2016 by Joe

Not Your Door is a deeply personal album for Robert Rotifer, taking in his present life living in Canterbury, Kent, as well as his past, growing up in Vienna. But with its themes of family and the very notion of home it aims to resonate with many.

As with other Rotifer releases it also has a political edge and the timing of its release, coming after the European political landscape changed when Britain voted to leave the EU, gives its tale of an Austrian who has made his home in England added resonance.

robert-rotifer-not-your-door

The first five tracks focus on his English life, as an artist, journalist and parent. Opener If We Hadn’t Had You is a deliberately non-mawkish look at parenthood that takes in his own sense of wonder and worries of having children while referencing the ongoing aftermath of the war in Iraq, where parents continue to live in fear that each day with their child may be their last.

Meanwhile in my Machine takes in our obsession with technology and its affect on real living. This is a theme that was also touched on in his John Howard and the Night Mail track last year, London’s After Work Drinking Culture.

Elsewhere on the album’s first half, Passing a Van looks at Shrodingers immigrant, who are perceived by Brexiters as a drain on the economy, while at the same time working hard and paying taxes in jobs such as working in care homes. With his fellow Kent residents voting to leave the EU by a whopping 59% you can see why he felt the need to write this track.

On side two Rotifer travels back to Vienna, visiting old haunts and key childhood memories. Falling off a bike in front of laughing workers on The Piano Factory and encounters with skinheads on Top of the Escalator are two such memories that many will have experienced in similar ways.

His incredibly interesting late grandmother Irma Schwager also features on two songs, Irma La Douce and the title track. As a Jewish communist she was forced to flee Austria during the Second World War, fought as a member of the French resistance and then returned home.

Across the album there’s a deliberate focus on lyrical content with instrumentation often taking a back seat. This gives it a folk feel in places, with hints of John Martyn at times in Rotifer’s acoustic guitar work. The sparse production has also meant he has had to be ruthless at times, in particular axing a version of If We Hadn’t Had You, featuring a saxello solo by Canterbury based jazz veteran Tony Coe. This version has been released separately as a single though, to ensure it is not lost.

Also, while Rotifer band members, bassist Mike Stein and drummer Ian Button, appear here, they are used sparingly, hence the album being released under the name Robert Rotifer rather than Rotifer.

While it lacks the energy of Rotifer’s last release The Cavalry Never Showed Up its low key feel works well, especially in capturing how lives are affected by events such as war and most recently the EU referendum.

8/10

by Joe Lepper

Robert Rotifer – Not Your Door is released by Gare Du Nord.

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John Howard – Songs For Randall EP

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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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