Alice Howe. The Clearing
Alice Howe/Bandcamp, 2013.
Alice Howe’s work begins when she was just 12, and her first self-titled studio album came out in 2009. Her influences include folk masters such as Jackson Brown, Joan Baez, and Joni Mitchell, and these sounds can be heard in her original pieces. After a decade of playing guitar and writing songs, she has quite the repertoire of her own, but does occasionally cover popular folk tunes. At this point in time, she’s come full circle and is beginning to influence another round of young musicians with her ability to start so young, and come so far. My co-reviewer for the day, seven year old Ken, says that “it’s nice that she’s been making music since age twelve.”
The songs on The Clearing tend toward the longer side, and the whole album consists of fourteen tracks. While this is not a quick listen, the time investment is worth it, and the albums stand well on their own. Her guitar playing and singing are both laid back and relaxing, and easily distinguishable by her particular tone of voice, lilting but grounded in solid training. Really, about the only voices to qualitatively compare her to that I’ve heard in modern vocalists are my childhood friend Chelsea Hindenach, and Rhiannon Giddens. That connection to friends of my past made a real impression for this review, which Greg Jones pointed out to me shortly before what would have been my sister’s 28th birthday. That being said, I tried my best (and I feel, succeeded) to keep that bias out of this review. The writing is articulate, the playing is skilled and crisp, and her voice is clear and genuine.
One song that stuck out as notable above the rest was “Cordoba,” written of the Spanish city. Howe spent time there in 2012, and regaled local eateries such as Automatico and el Mundano. Her fluency in Spanish was a treat to hear, and the soft contrast between foreign and familiar were a joy to hear. Heavy Heart had possibly the best story-telling ability on this album, and her tone was noticeably lower, complementing the somber story painted within. This song features pleasant harmonies as well. In opposition to the lower tones of Heavy Heart, Swimming is a bright, earthy sound of summer freedom and being with one you love. Ken found the guitar work on this one especially relaxing, like floating down a lazy river. Another song worth pointing out was The Return, an almost country tune written from a man’s point of view. The mention of “goodnight Irene” and Angelina harkens to classic folk stars Leadbelly and Bob Dylan. Finishing out the album, La despedida is in English, but far more soulful than other works, and has a lower quality, with forefront vocals. These qualities leave the album feeling finished, like the end of an evening concert.
Keep an eye on Alice Howe, and young artists coming in her tracks, who manage to forge their own legacy while keeping folk traditions alive. Her career may be early, but she has a long road ahead of her, if The Clearing is any indication.
Tracks: Another Ocean, Heavy Heart, Circles, The Clearing, Engine 143, Swimming, Proof, Sympathy, In Arms, Let Me Go, Córdoba, Still Life, The Return, La despedida