Seems like it was just over a year ago that I was enjoying the Big Sky of Montana and Idaho in the company of loved ones. Actually, it has been just over a year now that I think about it. Nostalgia can be a double-edged sword – every moment thinking about the past is a moment away from the present. Fortunately, I was able to indulge just a bit as my soundtrack on that Idaho / Montana trip was the debut record by Philadelphia artist, Heyward Howkins. His follow-up record was sent my way a few weeks ago and I’ve played it non-stop ever since. What does an artist do for an encore when they’ve already delivered a perfect record? Well, they go ahead and better the previous record in ways the listener hadn’t imagined. Be Frank, Furness is the new record by Heyward Howkins and it is one of the standout records of 2013.
We are introduced to the album by way of opener Nogales, a stunning slice of indie folk with a sweet melody wrapped around its chorus “What could be success / if not for ugliness”. The final 15 seconds of the tune, embellished in falsetto and shimmering guitar tones is about as perfect as could be. Praline Country spins a tale reminiscent of Appalachian folk ballads, darkness lurking beneath a veneer of hope. Unrequited love or jealousy gone awry? With a lyric like this, it encapsulates both “You broke off a part of me / Oh steadily / Then ran your first love Billy / All of ours really”. Pundit has an East River Pipe vibe about it and is all the better for it. Layered instrumentation, this is a mid tempo indie rock masterpiece. The final verse begins as a lament and works its way into an almost gospel recitation, shifting into a brief coda. Stunning. Sweet Tea Oleander builds from its minimal folk introduction to a layered pop folk masterpiece. It swings and sways, backing vocals adding a nice touch to the proceedings. The title takes its name from a line in the 1st verse, but the repeated phrase is the one that’ll get stuck in your head “We’re an open arm staircase settled at the top / at the bottom it falls apart / I’ll tip a branch water to bourbon”. Flimsy Stock ends the record with acoustic guitar & voice, an emotionally resonant 3 minutes that will linger long after the track has ended.
This is one of those albums that gets better with each listen – company for those winter days filled with half-light. A progression to be sure, but the album also retains the charm of last years debut. Each track is essential to the flow of the album, there isn’t one filler song here. You can stream the tracks, purchase, and even pick up a limited edition vinyl (that’s a record, kids) via Heyward’s Bandcamp site. Make sure to also head over to the official Facebook page to receive all the latest news. Sophomore slump? Not with Heyward Howkins. A comforting return.
Verdict: Philadelphia Comfort
For Fans of: Neil Young, Honeychurch, Jeffrey Gaines, Neil Halstead, Simon & Garfunkel, East River Pipe
- Cut & Corral
- Rare Earths
- Praline Country
- Be Frank, Furness
- Brite Kites
- Sweet Tea Oleander
- Flimsy Stock