by James Conway
It’s hard to make a name for yourself in music these days, so it’s perfectly understandable for artists to harness the power of association in a bid to make themselves stand out. Philadelphia based songwriter Heyward Howkins has opted to name himself after his five-times Grandfather Thomas Heyward, who apart from being one of the Founding Fathers, also scrawled his name on a little document known as the Declaration of Independence. So not much to live up to then. But could Heywood Senior carry a tune or strum a guitar? No-one can know for sure, but his descendant has had a fairly good crack at both.
“The Hale and the Hearty” is an internationally flavoured album, combining the emotive elegance of classic American songwriters such as Bon Iver with the slightly whimsical nature and quirkiness of their British compatriots such as Nick Drake. It’s a combination that fits snugly like a new pair of boots as the tranquil plucked acoustics of first track ‘Thunderin’ Stop’ invoke images of a lazy afternoon walk where everything is right with the world. Howkins seems in no hurry to go anywhere fast despite the slightly intrusive percussion of the title track giving way to some nicely layered guest vocals and irreverent trumpet before the melancholic tones and semi-improvised sounding guitar of ‘Spanish Moss’ pays tribute to Howkins’ extended family.
The stripped down nature of ‘Sugar Sand, Stitched Lip’ sounds all the better for its frayed, faraway approach while the quirky effects and jaunty lyrical delivery of ‘Waist High or Dry’ come close to upbeat territory before deciding it’s not worth the hassle. Low piano notes and some echoing percussion give ‘The Raucous Calls of Morning’ a vaguely baroque vibe while the melodic free-for-all of ‘Flash Mob’ seems to pop up out of nowhere, living up to its title. Things slow down to barely audible levels for the rustic folk of ‘The Live Oak’ while the teasing instrumentation of ‘Plume and Orange’ moves away from the themes of local surroundings to tell a curiously sad tale of the last two birds on earth.
Despite little variation in his songwriting, Howkins shows promise throughout “The Hale and Hearty” with his clever use of guest spots and the ragged, improvisational nature of the songs creating an honest atmosphere where creativity can flow; this is about as far removed from mega-bucks recording studio fine tweaking as it’s possible to get, and it’s this endearing nature that should ensure his survival in the big wide world of music. Thomas Heyward himself would no doubt be proud.