Heyward Howkins: Be Frank, Furness – album review
Heyward Howkins: Be Frank, Furness
Available November 5th 2013
A new album from the prolific Heyward Howkins. Can it match the quality of last year’s Hale And Hearty? Rob McNamara reports.
Such was the urgency with which Heyward Howkins thrust his debut album Hale And Hearty upon us last year, it could have been presumed we wouldn’t be hearing from him for a while. He could have retreated to a tastefully decorated log cabin somewhere remote and inspiring to slowly dictate his new songs through an ornate semi-acoustic guitar – and we couldn’t blame him. Such presumptions would be wide of the mark though. As sure as Hale And Hearty was to seduce you with its joyful melodies, Be Frank, Furness will slap you out of your slumber with more or less the same tendencies from this prolific songsmith.
The former guitarist in The Trouble With Sweeney, Howkins has produced a collection of songs that conjure imagery from every word and frequently delight with the soulful vocals and well placed embellishments. Howkins’ use of lyrics in particular is challenging. Not enough to put the listener off, though – the songs are so damn hummable when taken in isolation. The title track for example, places the famous Philadelphia architect Frank Furness into the role of Howkins’ butler in an obtuse commentary about survival and privilege. It may go over listeners’ heads this side of the Atlantic – it certainly did this reviewer’s – but then when has lyrical reference ever been a barrier to enjoyment. Don’t worry, you won’t have to be a history major to get through this record.
Family is an influence on the words – Heyward takes his name from his five times grandfather Thomas Heyward (dubbed “The Singing Signer”), founding father and signer of the Declaration of Independence.
So, to the songs. Nogales is a wonderfully energetic start with nice echoed guitar and Spanish trumpet. Cut And Corral opens with Smiths-esque jangle guitar but the upbeat demeanour remains and Howkins’ voice wraps the melody in a warm glow. The vocals are sumptuously delivered throughout. Howkins possesses a voice like that of a gentle old New Orleans blues singer and it is wonderfully soothing and reassuring at the same time. Pretty acoustic finger picking accompanies Rare Earths, a summery stroll that shows a delicate versatility to match the livelier moments and a strong example of Howkins’ individual guitar style. Praline Country is a slow set shuffle and Lorraine is a pop gem.
This is a playful and jubilant record, borne from unique experience and conveyed vividly through the buoyant melodies and fascinating lyrics that tell of struggles and triumphs embedded in intrinsically American characters. If Ray Davies were from across the sea, he may just have written songs like this. Being too English never hurt The Kinks in the US. I imagine being a little too American won’t hurt Howkins over here – his songs are just too damn good.