Heyward Howkins has been on the Philladelphia scene for a long time. He had success with a band called The Trouble With Sweeney, opening for My Morning Jacket and OK Go. The band were also singled out by Rolling Stone twice as “top picks of the year” before they broke up in 2004. Howkins is also involved in several other projects in Philladelphia, including a choral group called The Silver Ages. It’s basically him and twelve other guys from local bands, people such as Charlie Hall who plays with Jens Lekman and The War On Drugs.
Now Heyward Howkins has released his debut LP, Hale & Hearty, in which he chronicles his own family history. It’s an honest record that talks affectionately about its subjects, remembering the god things and the bad. Howkins ensures that, throughout the album, his lyrics were the most prominent component. After all, if you’re going to tell your own story, why would you hide what you’re saying behind over-complicated arrangements and distrating melodies?
On Hale & Hearty, Heyward Howkins is talking about his middle class life in Philladelphia, and a lot of artists talk about a middle class life somewhere so it is quite refreshing to listen to this record without hearing any two songs that sound the same. Howkins cites influences such as Nick Cave, The Cure, John Cale and Otis Redding to name a few. While such influences are audible on the record, the combination of Howkins’ influences with his own modern style of stroytelling means that the record has its own sound.
There are elements of this album that call to mind the likes of Bon Iver but the songwriting always goes above and beyond any pale imitation of Justin Vernon’s work. The Raucous Calls of Morning is potentially the most Bon Iver-like the album gets. The haunting vocals over a sleepy piano open the track which then builds itself into a beautifully orchestrated song with violins backing up the lyrics. It’s a beautifully crafted song that in the end doesn’t really sound like Bon Iver at all.
Howkins spins tales of time passing, family and friends and the places he as known, loved and been disppointed with. He does this with a certain confidence without overdoing it, especially on Spanish Moss. The track talks about how his “city is cold and naked, who’s going to put an arm around it?”, it’s an affectionate song which highlights what Howkins sees as the city’s flaws, but you always know he wants his town to pull through and get better again. It’s a brave thing to do, being that honest about somewhere that he clearly cares so much about.
It’s availabe to download for free from Soundcloud too…
Hale & Hearty is a record to get lost in. The stunning arrangements and pretty melodies make it very easy to isten to over and over again while Heyward’s vocals keep you hanging on his every word.
The whole album can be streamed on Bandcamp, but if you want to own it, all you need to do is pay five US dollars or more: