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Howie Beck - Howie Beck

Howie Beck, album

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

CRITICALLY-acclaimed Toronto-based singer-songwriter Howie Beck releases his first new material for five years with this bittersweet self-titled effort that demonstrates his ability with effortless grace.

Beck was seen as a major talent in waiting when he released his debut, Hollow via the now defunct Easy!Tiger label but has taken a while to follow it up. Fortunately, the wait has been worth it – as Howie Beck emerges as a major triumph which embraces the style of contemporary artists such as Jack Johnson and Badly Drawn Boy with something a little fuller.

Recent single Sometimes (She’s So Far In) was a strong indication of what to expect – deeply melodic songs that possess a darker side. The track in question is about someone who ‘can never walk a straight line… except in the morning’, yet is delivered with upbeat gusto to make it capable of widespread appeal.

Fans of that record will probably most warm to efforts such as My Low which combines a similar upbeat style with some more gritty lyrics (‘I’m strong like an empty bottle’).

Album highlight Don’t Be Afraid is a very warm effort, beginning with a hand-clapping style and some shimmering guitar riffs that hint at the easy-going style of George Harrison. Yet, once again, they’re about a troubled character, someone Beck tells ‘don’t be afraid if you’re all fucked up, everyone knows you’ll get through some how’.

Vocally, Beck provides an intoxicating presence – as easygoing as Jack Johnson, especially when delivering on upbeat melodies, yet equally capable of aching sadness.

The slow-building, country-tinged Zombie Girl is delivered in almost a gentle whisper, telling another sad tale in heartfelt fashion. Likewise, How Do You Feel, which really does suggest the style of Neil Finn.

Musically, the album isn’t afraid of drawing on different instruments, from mouth organs to banjos, to acoustic guitars and piano. It serves to enrich the overall feel of the album as well as demonstrating the many layers to Beck’s songwriting.

How Do You Feel, in particular, is given an epic sweep by the presence of some melancholy strings.

That said, I particularly liked the album best when the album adopted a more lively focus, such as We Waited, with its strong banjo riffs and delicious chorus, or the grittier sound of Everybody Sold Out.

Yet even when adopting a more melancholy, low-key outlook, Howie Beck remains a deeply satisfying album that is well worth recommending. Let’s just hope it doesn’t take another five years for Howie to deliver his next one!

Track listing:

  1. Alice
  2. Sometimes She’s So Far In
  3. My Low
  4. Zombie Girl
  5. Don’t Be Afraid
  6. Books Beside Her Bed
  7. How Do You Feel
  8. We Waited
  9. Everybody Sold Out
  10. Please
  11. I Need Light
  12. Floating
  13. Lay Down