Howard Herrick – Howard Herrick

 Howard Herrick – Howard Herrick

Howard Herrick – Howard Herrick – Album Review

Like I was hinting at the other day when we first posted up the lead single/video “Hold My Hand” from Howard Herrick’s new self-titled record, it’s very clear that this guy is livin’ his best life right now.  I know you can’t see it from here, but if you check out his page at Bandcamp and take a look at the photo that comes with it, you’ll see from the hammock-wide smile on his face that you can take all this as fact.   Lots of reason for that I’m sure – after years behind the scenes in the entertainment business with all kinds of credits to his name at this point, and all the time spent crafting his talents in his former band Minster Hill – Howard’s had a lifetime’s worth of achievements already and he might STILL be just getting warmed up!  Must be nice dude…I’m feelin’ like it takes four weeks to get my third wind these days – but I can definitely imagine it’s gotta be a very exciting time in Herrick’s career, getting that new solo album out there officially into the world at long last…it’s the kind of tale that has you rootin’ for his success just by story alone.  Seems like he’s certainly earned it according to his multi-page long resume.

Starting the album off on solid ground, the lead-single “Hold My Hand” opens up the atmosphere in a serene & chill mix that has genuine soul and a sweet tone confidently flowing throughout its length.  This was officially my first experience with Howard’s music…probably back about a week or so now when I had a chance to check out the video and listen – not that much time has passed to prove this theory yet, but, I think he’s got a track that’ll really hold up well over time.  There’s a real blissful combination of style & sound at work on this song and Herrick gets the maximum potential out of the shiny appeal in the crossover cut he’s created with “Hold My Hand” – have a listen below for yourself and check out the video, you’ll see & hear what I’m saying – this is a beautiful example of fusion at work.

So…here’s where I was at…I was right where you are now – “Hold My Hand” was the first impression, and a memorably strong one at that.  What if I told ya things were about to get…hmmm…you know – I’m honestly not quite sure how to describe the experience of listening to “Show Me That One Again.”  I was about to say, what if I told ya things were about to get significantly better and even MORE amazing – and part of me will probably always believe that to be true, because I think Howard has written one of the prettiest songs of the decade with this second cut on his self-titled record.  But I also don’t want to take anything away from the significant achievement & effort made with his lead-single “Hold My Hand” either – it’s truly a great tune as well, and the crossover style & sound suited him really well.  But this.  THIS.  This is an award-worthy song both for the writing and the exceptional performance that Howard puts into this – like my jaw is literally on the floor and my ears are on the speakers when this song comes on…that kind of pure gem that stops time all-around you while you sit & listen with every fiber of your being.  Without question, Howard’s delivered a huge early highlight here, reflecting nostalgically through his lyrics, drifting in between gorgeous sentiment & haunting melancholy that reveals a master’s grip on emotion.  As stripped down as it is, the sound of Howard and a piano will leave you speechless on “Show Me That One Again” – I literally cannot say enough about this song.  He’s like a young Billy Joel of his early prime here, singing & playing with such exceptional detail in the words and such powerful, controlled, and surging emotions running through his vocals…Howard’s amazing here, full-stop.  Beyond impressed with this tune & I’m positive it’ll likely remain my favorite from this album.

As I’ve run into many times throughout these reviews over the years…it can be extremely tough to follow a highlight moment up – and for the record, blame those in the situation rather than the guy listening eh?  Not my fault Howard’s written one of the best songs of the year and put it way, way up there in the lineup on this album…it scores him an early highlight for sure – but no lie, it makes the looseness in “Go And Hear” much tougher to love and absorb at first…or at least, it did for me.  I’m fairly well-known for my ability to be objective…if it was just as simple as a decent tune following an amazing one, I think I’d probably just roll with it; that being said, I’m not entirely convinced that “Go And Hear” couldn’t use a significant tune-up.  For the longest song on the album, it will flash some serious moments of brilliance, but it also ends up being hindered slightly by the drone of the guitar finding a noticeably repetitive gear that might wind up wearing out its welcome a bit faster than he’s hoping.  There’s kind of Dandy Warhols-esque rhythm with a Neil Young-like rawness & grind that’s goin’ on here on “Go And Hear”…and I’ll admit, the hypnotic repetition of the way Howard’s created the structure of this song does eventually grow on ya.  I might have gone with this as the final track of the album…I think if anything, I’m questioning placement more than anything…don’t get me wrong, there’s something about the coolness of the controlled & chill sound you’ll hear on “Go And Hear” – but pulse-wise, Howard’s maintaining a level just above a flat-line here…and that might prove to be a tall ask of people for a five-minute stretch in this day & age.  As the exit to the record, listeners tend to be a bit more accepting to an idea like this…early on…honestly, despite the noteworthy performances on the microphone and exotic way the character & personality of this song becomes…hard to say if the listeners out there will stick with it as readily as they might some of the rest on this self-titled record.

Redemption comes quickly through “Behind Closed Doors” – which has Howard almost turning into decidedly Michael Stipe-like terrain in one of my absolute favorite tracks on this album.  Maybe to be even more accurate, I’d go with something akin to like a modern-day R.E.M. crossed with the forward-thinking sounds of Scritti Politti back in the day (who were ahead of their time then & still are to this very day)…maybe a splash of the serious-side of Peter Gabriel in the mix for good measure as well.  However you hear it, however you want to describe it – we can all agree that Howard’s written yet another significantly amazing tune here right?  Songs like this blow my mind, truly – as tender as it is, it’s got that, like, Damien Rice rawness to the emotion & sweet yearning in the vocals…and it all just packs such a tremendous punch when it’s all said & done.  The threadbare vocal-breakdown was a genius move as well – and really, just about as bold as it gets – Howard’s as naked as the day in that moment and owns the spotlight with confidence.  It’s not quite “Show Me That One Again” – but we’re talking real, real close here…I almost love this song every bit as much – I just also happen to believe that a song like “Show Me That One Again” probably only ever comes along once in a lifetime.  That first kick-in to the chorus around the one-minute mark…brother-man, that’s pure magic right there – and quite honestly, I wasn’t sure how much more I could already love this song after the supremely strong way it already began.  Somehow, Howard continues to pour captivating sound from your speakers with a soft & gentle touch, poetic, personal, and unafraid to be vulnerable in the lyrics he’s written on “Behind Closed Doors” – there’s more heart in this tune than there is in the human body.  With its layer of misty melody on the surface, Herrick blends art & music as one here, putting in another highlight performance & confirming yet again, what a tremendous gift this man has for songwriting – I LOVE this song Howard.

“New Heart” is another solid example of the innovative twist on Pop that Herrick’s working inside of…fairly progressive in so many ways as well, while still retaining enough familiar structure for the everyday listener to grab onto.  You can hear that Peter Gabriel influence come through here again, in my opinion, though eventually Howard will tackle the hooks with a bit more soul & Pop-inspired sound than you’d typically expect from PG.  Might just be that slight rasp that ends up in Howard’s vocals every so often that has that similar sound of wisdom & melody to it…maybe that’s what draws the comparison.  Songs like this allow you a bit more time to absorb & appreciate the key elements driving this record to success, like the backbone in the rhythm section between the drums & bass, or the piano/keyboards chiming-in with the perfect addition to the atmosphere…”New Heart” has a ton of examples of the small details that really stack up to one massively memorable experience.  The shift into the chorus here…or the pre-chorus, if you will, is probably what I’d actually consider to be the main hook of this song…I think the verse & actual chorus have their appeal too, but he’s written a significantly special transition in the pre-chorus that really stands-out.  Overall though, there’s a lot of beauty happenin’ throughout “New Heart” that’ll make an impression on your ears…from the high-up harmonies, to the soulful & expressive lead-vocals, to the progression & structure of the music – I’d certainly be willing to make a hard argument for this song being one of the unsung heroes of the album.

Conversely, a track like “Is Love Enough” is sure to stand-out to a whole bunch of listeners out there – I really dig this tune.  Howard’s found himself a surefire vocal-flow & melody that crushes & moves fluidly, expanding brightly, boldly, and beautifully into some of the most playful & colorful hooks you’ve heard this side of Jellyfish.  Much like that amazing band, Howard’s embracing a bit more of his theatrical & performance-minded side when it comes to “Is Love Enough” – and I think the results are absolutely fantastic.  The harmonies are great, the chorus is super-strong…and I love that Howard has continually sounded all kinds of different throughout the songs on this entire album – that is assuming, he’s singing all these songs…which…the jury might be out on that right now…  We’ll go into that a bit more before the end here…ahem.  But on “Is Love Enough,” he’s almost got that, like, indescribable Todd Kerns magic-rasp goin’ on in the way he sings the main hooks in the chorus and he sounds completely rad.  All-around, the ideas come radiating through with pure passion & heart here…”Is Love Enough” makes brilliant use of its time and melody, seemingly maximizing on every possible opportunity it had to make an impression on your ears out there.  While it may sound like life/love might be crashing down around him at times throughout “Is Love Enough” – you’ll find Howard inside one of the most welcoming, inviting, and colorful vibes he’s put onto his self-titled record…so though he might be questioning a whole bunch of important stuff & feelings & all-that, note that he must be having an alright time in doing so.  Sure sounds like a whole bunch of fun to be had on “Is Love Enough” as far as my ears are concerned…all-in-all, it’s a really smart tune that makes great use of contrast like a Todd Rundgren song would do, also possessing hooks that people won’t be able to get enough of in that same respect…”Is Love Enough” perks up the album at just the right time for it.  Howard’s like two Todds for the price of one!

Vocally, “If I Fall Off That Next Step” is another stunner for sure – and this time, I’m certain it’s not Howard, 100%.  The female-led acoustic-based gem sitting here at the end of the record in the second-to-last spot is sure to have people paying attention…gorgeous performance from the music to the microphone on a quaint, sweet, and stunningly tender tune that completely hits home.  I’m never one to discourage trying a whole bunch of things – but I am one to encourage what works; when it comes to this particular record, the more stripped-down the sound, the more purely stunning the results became.  It’s essentially just the acoustic guitar and the vocals on “If I Fall Off That Next Step” to guide you along – and believe me when I say, that’s absolutely all you need.  It’s songs like this that confirm what we definitely know by now, which is that Howard’s got an amazing style of songwriting that sincerely connects to the heart & soul…when the ingredients are at their most minimal, it’s those melodies that have to stand-up – you’ll find that Howard’s songs have no problem rising to the challenge.  Right from the drop though…what a stunning mix on this song…you can instantly feel the sweetness flow in like it’s riding on the wind into the beginning of this tune, then combined with the angelic & graceful vocals that accompany that sweet-sweet acoustic…”If I Fall Off That Next Step” is a brilliantly understated & powerful love song.  Almost Carpenters-esque here for a moment…maybe K’s Choice would be another solid comparison…regardless, the end result is a captivating beauty you truly won’t take your ears off of.

A song like “Nothing Lasts Forever” reaches back a bit further for its songwriting inspiration – and you can hear that both through the sound of the final results, and a lot of the lyrics Howard’s written as well.  It’s an interesting tune in the sense that, if you’re listening, “Nothing Lasts Forever” might feel like it wanders a bit focus-wise in comparison to many of the cuts on this record, but if you were to examine this song on paper, you’d see it all adds up.  This would be another great example of the progressive-side of Howard’s writing…and while there’s always a risk with throwing the everyday music-listeners out there simply looking to sing along a lil’ bit, you almost always score a few more bonus points with the songwriters out there by the same token.  My gut always tells me that you wanna find those simple & subtle ways to connect when it comes to the tenderized tunes out there…I think the additional complexity can sometimes take a bit away from the potential of the beauty that exists in the melody.  Decent tune by any stretch – I definitely wouldn’t take any points away from the songwriting, and I think if you listen real close, you’ll find a few more personal details added into this tune that might give you some more insight into what’s made Howard into the man he is today, or a glimpse of his mindset.  I can recognize what’s a bit of a meatier concept & more challenging melody for the people to absorb, and this is that – doesn’t mean it’s still not a good song & has merit of its own.  While “Nothing Lasts Forever” might have to fight a bit harder for the attention of the people out there, it’s another song that’ll have the songwriters out there talking about what they hear in Howard’s music, which is cool too.

Howard…Howard…Howard.  You’ve grown up in the entertainment industry my friend – you KNOW exactly how important those song credits & details are both to the performers and the most rabid music fans like myself listening & learning…so…I mean…unless your voice has managed to rise up several octaves on several songs throughout this record…I’m feeling like the online world is missing just a lil’ bit of info about this album, ain’t it bud?  I’ve checked multiple links but I’ve yet to actually find any credits other than the main star of the show…I’d imagine checking back on those pages by now might even yield a different result; it’s the kind of thing you’ll find once called out in-print tends to change real, real fast.  Of course I’m just giving him a hard time – but he’s found some noteworthy participants throughout this album, including the singer on the final track “Sad Plant,” who does an extraordinary job of mixing sweetness, sincerity, and a genuinely humble sound to this last song…this fine person definitely deserves a high-five at the very least, brother-Howard.  While I can hear that it’s likely a fairly new singer on the microphone here – I think absolutely every moment gets stronger & stronger as this song plays on, vocals certainly included in that.  All-around though, I’m sincerely impressed by the uniqueness in this final cut…there’s a real charm to “Sad Plant” that is truly all its own; the chorus hooks are bulletproof and likely among the strongest you’ll find on any of the songs on this album, straight-up.  Whereas a song like “Nothing Lasts Forever” might take a step or two too far in what all is included – “Sad Plant” is nearly like the exact opposite, dialing-back the list of ingredients & giving you just the right amount of everything you could possibly want to hear.  I have the feeling that the vocalist on this tune is likely quite close to Howard…maybe even possibly a relative & a newcomer to the music-scene…that’s my theory, that’s my guess…I have no proof of any of this, but make no mistake, he’s uncovered a true talent in the making here.  Every time those chorus hooks came up, it was like a dose of pure sunshine over this “Sad Plant” and a genuine moment in time I knew I’d remember…fantastic ending to what’s been a truly impressive debut record in Howard Herrick’s solo career and definitely the start of what could very well become the most exciting chapter of his music to-date.  This is a musician with a ton of heart, charm, and songs that connect – and I’d be keepin’ him on my playlist & radar if I were you.

Make sure to find out more about Howard Herrick…this man’s made of quality music & great ideas – find him at his official homepage here:  https://www.howardherrickmusic.com

Join the thousands of bands & artists reviewed at sleepingbagstudios by clicking here!

Jer@SBS

http://sleepingbagstudios.ca

"I’m passionate about what I do, and just as passionate about what YOU do. Together, we can get your music into the hands of the people that should have it. Let’s create something incredible."