Ben Howard – Old Pine EP (Island Records)
May 22, 2011 by TP James
Every year we get a new favourite singer/songwriter that we have to lavish our attentions upon, but this year we have one with a difference. Though still only in his early twenties, Ben Howard is already seasoned enough in approach to make hefty inroads into a saturated market and ensure that though the music he makes may be gentle at times, he has more than enough magnetism and lure to captivate even the most flooded of all audiences.
Captivating he certainly has been, creating a buzz of anticipation on the live circuit in the last year or so, culminating in the South coast surfer warming up for Xavier Rudd last year, and in the process making a lot of people sit up and listen. And listen well.
It’s the kind of noise that could pass you by if you weren’t paying attention. That’s not to suggest that these songs don’t have life, more that they are hushed moments of reflection, sprinkled with charisma and charm.
Certainly, there is a confident blend of acoustic folk songs to be found here, all grasping a chilled vibe attributed to Howard’s background as part of the current surf scene. Initially, he received support from surf brand Quiksilver upon his break out and plays a huge part of the present Surfers Against Sewage campaign.
This EP does differ from his first outing ‘These Waters’, but only in style. Sound wise, they are definitely the same manner of beast and sit well together. What made Ben Howard first stand out from the endless pack of same-old same-olds was his distinctive playing technique, and the ability to turn simple tapping into a melody. However, there is not so much of that patter here. Howard instead opts to show off his musicianship in order to craft such gorgeous tracks as the four on offer. The title track sets the tone for the next quarter of an hour, as the vocals ease in before taking flight and soaring. The lyrics are still very much steeped in ideas of home and being at peace, ‘Further Away’ and ‘Follerton Wood’ continue with the EP’s endless warmth and you can expect to hear ‘Three Tree Town’ a good few times on this year’s festival circuit when this man is on the bill.
Probably most adequately described as an EP with its best foot forward, it’s a true-to-form attempt to reach a wider audience this time around. His supporters are only going to love this, as should anyone who takes the time to listen. But to really appreciate these songs in all their tranquil glory, the best suggestion I can give is to hear them in the habitat they were made for, and for that you need to catch them played live.