John Howard – To The Left Of The Moon’s Reflection
John Howard/Kid In A Big World (UK/Europe)
Kool Kat Records (US)
Released 7 August 2020
John Howard new album, his seventeenth in total and the follow up to his well-received Cut The Wire LP from 2019. Recorded over the past year, he sings and plays everything here and the record is mastered by Ian Button, who also drummed in John’s Night Mail band. This record is also released in the US on Kool Kat. LTW’s Ian Canty is for once illuminated by the bright moonlight…
That John Howard has been on sparkling form of late is beyond any reasonable doubt in my view. His previous album Cut The Wire (reviewed here) was truly LP of the year material for 2019, a work of depth, intuitive artistry and a highly developed level of human cognisance. Some strong, more recent releases, the sublime In The Stillbeat Of A Silent Day and It’s Not All Over Yet singles, plus the reissued Four Piano Pieces and Across The Door Sill, are from the top drawer too. This all points to being the work of someone at the very height of their abilities and for Mr Howard, that’s saying a lot.
Since his debut with the perfect post glam pop of the Kid In A Big World album in 1975, John has had various periods of inspiration and downtime, the latter of which included a long stint in A&R in the 80s and 90s. He left the record company business in 2000 and returned to recording in earnest in the early part of the 21st century. As we reach 2020 he’s arguably as productive as he’s ever been, with his muse has been honed to a fine point and strengthened by the experiences he has gone through in what has been an extraordinary life.
To The Left Of The Moon’s Reflection, his 17th LP in total begins with And Another Day. It chimes in with heavenly bells and delicately probes the struggle and drab routines of everyday life. A finely crafted introduction with a deliciously warm sound, which continues onto following track Echoes Of Pauline. This one a salutatory tale of lost youth and friendship, it comes with the unique sense of balance John always seems to manage to strike in his songs, noting the despair that can be blinding while always hoping to salvage something. The passing of time is ultimately healing, though no doubt hard lessons have been learnt along the way.
Starting with a positively bouncy beat, I’m Over You is the story of how the end of a love affair can eventually be a very positive thing for a person. An authentic sketch of how the human soul recovers and develops, the music reflects the words with a strident purpose. Gentle electric piano heralds My Patient Heart, a portrait of an afternoon in Wales which is contrasted with Spain where John now calls home. Memories of Wales made me think initially of John Cale circa his Paris 1919 record, there’s a lovely effect here where John H is at one point near-duetting with himself.
Outlines’ slow moving chords and sparse percussion moves to a rolling feeling with catchy scat singing, all adding up to another excellent offering. Inspired by a visit to a Lowry exhibition, the composition cleverly seems makes the leap of comparing the development of a painting to human emotional development. Next comes Chime with an appropriately bright and gleaming musical palette, like the aural version of a fresh spring morning. Words floods in with a very subtle message that the world is ours and not the sole property of those who lust for power.
Injuries Sustained In Surviving is another of John’s songs which show the depths of despair that can be reached in life, but also the ultimate triumph of the human spirit. The message is the future still being there for the taking, there’s a city of fun out there to grasp. A ringing guitar line, breezy pacing and a folk pop styling help things along the way. In some ways this is the heart of To The Left Of The Moon’s Reflection LP, hope is never really lost and good times always temptingly just round the corner. A resonant note comes in and Centuries begins with just that plus piano and vocal. This one is cool and meditative, taking a tree’s endurance as a symbol of the eternity of nature and juxtaposing it with the transience of people. Needlessly to say this all accomplished in an imaginative and effective way.
The final two tracks Illusions Of Happiness and Water are the longest on this disc. The former is dreamy and light, gathering momentum whilst instituting a lovely melody. The gradual realisation that facing up to reality, with its ups and downs, is more appealing than fooling oneself is key, giving hope again through grim acceptance. Final track Water brings things home with a fitting climax. A twinkling, verdant fade in, the song includes the album’s title in its lyric. Though in analysis simply driven by just piano and voice, it is actually feels wide-screen and eternal, flawlessly conceived and gorgeous sounding. Lovely chamber pop, to coin a phrase, examining the mysteries of life, space and nature. Soon an accordion adds to an endearing warmth, an epic sound that adroitly deployed keys and unearthly voice bring to a wonderful finale.
To The Left Of The Moon’s Reflection lives up to everything Cut The Wire delivered, another masterwork by an artist in a class of his own. Beautifully, just beautifully arranged and realised, this is an album of substance that sounds like a dream and is truly something to treasure. Much like Cut The Wire, To The Left Of The Moon’s Reflection will set up home in your heart if you let it. A work and a world all of its own.
All words by Ian Canty – see his author profile here