11 Songs

EDITORS’ NOTES

Although Ben Howard often gets compared to Nick Drake or John Martyn, the English singer/songwriter was raised on his parents’ Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell records. Howard’s debut album, Every Kingdom, opens with the lilting, acoustic-based “Old Pine". Its intro, though, has much in common with Pink Floyd’s “Goodbye Blue Sky”, with descending chords and haunting “oohs” in the verses. Upon closer listen, Howard’s quivering, nasal-toned timbre recalls a young Devendra Banhart, sans surreal lyrics. “The Wolves” blends Banhart’s falsetto warble with the shaky vocal restraint of early Conor Oberst recordings. Toward the bridge, Howard digs deep into the grittier aspects of his natural tenor and we get a sense of his own style rising above his immediate influences. The more uptempo “Keep Your Head Up” works its timeless tunesmith magic best upon repeated listens. Over pedaling rhythms and subtly catchy melodies, Howard unleashes his scratchy voice, which segues into subtly layered gang vocals during the chorus.

EDITORS’ NOTES

Although Ben Howard often gets compared to Nick Drake or John Martyn, the English singer/songwriter was raised on his parents’ Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell records. Howard’s debut album, Every Kingdom, opens with the lilting, acoustic-based “Old Pine". Its intro, though, has much in common with Pink Floyd’s “Goodbye Blue Sky”, with descending chords and haunting “oohs” in the verses. Upon closer listen, Howard’s quivering, nasal-toned timbre recalls a young Devendra Banhart, sans surreal lyrics. “The Wolves” blends Banhart’s falsetto warble with the shaky vocal restraint of early Conor Oberst recordings. Toward the bridge, Howard digs deep into the grittier aspects of his natural tenor and we get a sense of his own style rising above his immediate influences. The more uptempo “Keep Your Head Up” works its timeless tunesmith magic best upon repeated listens. Over pedaling rhythms and subtly catchy melodies, Howard unleashes his scratchy voice, which segues into subtly layered gang vocals during the chorus.

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About Ben Howard

Before launching his career as an acoustic singer/songwriter, Ben Howard grew up in South Devon, England, where his mother’s collection of folk records helped instill a love for Joni Mitchell, Donovan, and Richie Havens. Howard also developed an interest in surfing, catching his first wave at the age of 11 and heading to the beach whenever he wasn’t busy writing music in the folksy style of his influences. While pursuing a journalism degree years later, he briefly moved to Newquay, the surf capital of the U.K., where he received class credit for working at a surfing magazine. Howard dropped out of school six months shy of graduation, though, convinced by the surf community’s enthusiastic response to his music -- which, despite its acoustic folk sound and beachy vibe, sounded more like John Martyn than Jack Johnson -- that he should ditch the newsroom and focus on songwriting.

The surf community proved to be a big stepping stone for Howard, who found himself playing to packed audiences long before his music spread beyond the U.K. beaches. He continued developing his style, too, adding a percussive element to his playing by learning to rap his knuckles across the guitar body between strums. A European tour with Xavier Rudd helped him build a wider audience in late 2008, as did the release of EPs like These Waters and Old Pine. By the time Howard finished recording his full-length debut, Every Kingdom, in autumn 2011, he’d signed a major-label deal with Island Records (the same label that once released music by John Martyn) and graduated to headliner status, thanks to growing fan bases in England, Germany, France, and Holland. Every Kingdom performed very well in the U.K., where it wound up getting nominated for the Mercury Prize and helped him win BRIT Awards for British Breakthrough Act and British Solo Male Artist; it was certified Platinum in that country. For his anticipated sophomore set, I Forget Where We Were, Howard went somewhat electric and was rewarded with strong reviews and sales; it debuted at number one on the U.K. charts. ~ Andrew Leahey

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