Ben Howard – Every Kingdom
Review by Jack Foley
WEST Country singer-songwriter Ben Howard has, for some time, been delivering tantalising tasters of his debut album, Every Kingdom – the most recent of which, Keep Your Head Up, was a no-brainer as an IndieLondon single of the week.
It’s reassuring to write that the remainder of the album is similarly as impressive. Produced by the band’s bassist and drummer Chris Bond, it’s an album that captures the rawness and intimacy of Ben’s live performance, from the deftness of touch, the spellbinding nature of those six strings carefully finger-plucked, rapped knuckles on the body of the guitar to Ben’s otherworldly vocal cries.
For sure, there are those who might dismiss him as just another singer-songwriter plying his trade a la Marcus Foster, Newton Faulkner and Elliott Smith. But like each one of those artists, Howard is a talent to celebrate in his own right.
His songs are intelligently, often beautifully composed, while his delivery is seriously impassioned and emotionally involving.
The template is set from the start, with the gentle but mesmerising finger-plucking of Old Pine… a track that boasts a genuinely addictive hook and some great lyrics.
Diamonds follows in the form of a dusky folk song that is built around a haunted vocal and some imagery-strewn lyrics. It’s less warm than Old Pine but no less striking in its quietly confident way.
Former single The Wolves then maintains the opening high standards… opening with a vaguely wolf-life vocal harmony, a scatter-gun drum beat and some folk guitars, it’s a slow-builder that screams classic quality, and which continues to get better the more you hear it (as the instrumental layering also becomes evident).
As the pace quickens, the layering becomes richer (vocally and instrumentally), while the laidback folk turns more folk-rock (a la Mumford & Sons).
Elsewhere, there’s something approaching breeziness on the deeply romantic Only Love, one of several tracks to celebrate when the mood takes you, while The Fear employs an urgency in its guitar plucks that fits the angst and trepidation suggested in the song’s title.
That former single of the week, Keep Your Head Up, continues to stand out as a firm favourite – showcasing Ben at his most raw and unrestrained, hook-laden and heavy of heart. It slow builds from some careful plucking of that six-string guitar into a full-bodied offering that makes the most of his other-worldly vocal cries. And it seems ripe for a prime position on several soundtracks.
Final track Promise then draws things to a supremely satisfying close… finger-plucked, harmony-heavy and building towards a mesmerising, spiralling finale. It really underlines why Howard is worth discovering and enjoying in his own right.
Every Kingdom is every bit the timeless album that his singles thus far have suggested it might be.
Watch the video for Keep Your Head Up
Download picks: Old Pine, The Wolves, Only Love, The Fear, Keep Your Head Up, Promise