Ben Howard – Every Kingdom (Island)

October 31, 2011 by  

Some albums take an age to drop, and artists that you see take their first tentative steps out into the glare of the stage can surprise you so much that it becomes a personal goal for you to track and witness their progress.

For some, the wait for the summer leaf to turn from green to brown was almost too much, especially when for most of the UK, summer ended in May, and the arduous lag towards these calendared release dates limp day by day. It’s probably the case that Ben Howard’s scheduled 15 minutes has been somewhat overshadowed by the unexpected, overbearing dross – no names mentioned (Ed Sheeran) – that we’re force-fed by the commercial radio elite, however Howard is a welcomed variation a theme. On paper, there is no big difference, but it is distinctive nonetheless. It helps that it’s also good, so all you talentless, arrogant, ginger songwriters out there, take note.

The era of the singer/songwriter has been stuck in the sand for some time now, and the tide has been rising ever so slowly. On the surface here, it may seem that the latest in a long line of lonesome troubadours in the shape of a young West Country native has stepped out from the darkened stages, in some vain hope of presenting a version of himself that ticks all the boxes. In reality, that’s not the case.

Truthfully, I was expecting more of a shining light of an album, but from the original few EPs and online releases, up through the release of Old Pine to now, the arrival of a debut album ushers in not only a new sound, but also a new Ben Howard with it. His rise to the here and now has seen a transition in style, the only constant being the delicate, sometimes bleating voice. Musically, although still very rooted in the modern acoustic, there is less tapping and more chords than there used to be and this tapped style was a big draw when Howard first started out.

However, it doesn’t betray, nor in my opinion, define everything that his young man is or can be. The new songs are great and sit well together with the newly recorded versions of old staples like ‘These Waters’ and ‘The Wolves’. The deluxe edition even includes a live version of old favourite ‘Move Like You Want’. ‘Old Pine’ was released on its own EP in the wake of this album and is a great way to start the album off.

Perhaps a shame that a few other tracks from that EP didn’t make it to this record – or maybe more of a shame that the tracks that do appear here are not quite at the same high standard, but all-in-all these songs are a compelling first listen and as fresh as the Autumn breeze that carries them in.

It’s not perfect. There are broken promises in the form of songs like ‘Only Love’, a song with a driving beat but faulty sat-nav. I would also like to bet that had he had the means to make this album two years ago, the sheer weight of his song craft would have propelled these songs to far beyond the reach that this album eventually will.

My prediction is that Ben Howard is destined for mediocrity. Not because this album isn’t as good it’s promise nor even that he doesn’t deserve to be heard. He is, in my opinion, the finest young singer/songwriter in the UK right now, albeit one that peaked a little too early, but being that he is not backed by huge money and that he is a quite content to make music in a pure way and not present a false parody of himself, I can’t see prolonged major success on the basis of ‘Every Kingdom’.

However, he at least deserves his time in the sunshine before the winter nights start to draw in. Let’s hope we see more of this type of man, as well as music, and kick to touch the egotists who feel that we need them and they don’t need us.

[rating:4]


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