ALBUM REVIEW: Howard Herrick by Howard Herrick

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Howard Herrick is a songwriter and producer hailing from New Jersey. He has written music in many genres (just a few being pop, rock, jazz, blues and orchestral) both as a solo artist and as part of the group Minster Hill. He’s written and produced music for both film and theatre, including My One and Only, Vanishing on 7th Street, Very Good Girls, Nightlight and Peter Pan 360.

He’s also been Executive Music Producer on several film productions and written several label artists. Recently, he composed music for Shaquille O’ Neal’s video game Shaq-Fu: A Legend Reborn and is currently writing and producing music for the second series of American Beauty Star.

This eponymous solo album was entirely written and produced by Howard, who also performed (and engineered) most of the instruments, as well as mixing and mastering the music. He collaborates with various vocalists, both male and female. It consists of nine tracks and acts as an excellent showcase for his songwriting versatility and musical eclecticism.

The album starts with perhaps the most modern production, Hold My Hand. It’s a slinky pop/R&B track in a similar style to The Weeknd and mid-period Justin Timberlake.  The song is superbly crafted, highlighted by a memorable lead vocal performance, by a male singer gifted with a huge range and a powerful, distinctive falsetto.

He sings in the upper register of his voice throughout, over a simple but effective beat driven by a pulsing kick drum, along with piano and catchy synth riffs. Written in a minor key, it starts with the highly memorable chorus and lyrically deals with having faith in the strength of a relationship and facing the future without fear. Hold My Hand is an obvious choice as a single and sounds like it belongs at the top of the charts.

Show Me That One Again is a complete contrast, a poignant ballad consisting of just piano and a warm, intimate vocal. It’s a moving song about how the responsibilities of adulthood have dimmed the ebullience that the young have: “You say your owned now by some business-suited man…”.

The essence of the song is captured succinctly in the chorus: “Just remember for a little while, you once were young and had that smile, I haven’t seen it since I don’t know when, won’t you show me that one again?” Exquisitely crafted and sensitively performed, it harks back to the classic singer songwriters and confessional style of the 70’s.

Third track Go and Hear is another sharp contrast, opening in a blaze of heavy, low end electric chords and rich organ. It’s soon joined by a meaty backbeat and an edgier lead vocal that fits with the overall rock sound. It features a huge sounding chorus augmented by Queen-style stacked backing harmonies. It also features a fantastic guitar solo, bringing back the late 80’s commercial rock sound.

Behind Closed Doors recalls the 80’s again, but this time the synth pop sound which has recently come back into vogue through groups like Chvrches and The xx. This makes it one of the album’s most contemporary tracks and lyrically it is certainly the darkest, opening with the bleak lines: “I’ve fallen to the depths of despair, to the darkest of places, no one else is there….there are no familiar faces…”.

The emotional depth and honesty displayed here gives considerable power and weight to the music and shows real authenticity in terms of artistry. Starting with a guitar and bass figure, it gradually builds into an epic pop track that mirrors the gravity of the lyrics. The lead vocals are performed in different octaves, which gives it a distinctive, memorable sound. Around the three minute mark, the song breaks down to a poignant section where a ghostly sounding vocal portrays the dark emotional landscape that the song expresses.

The following New Heart is set at a similar tempo but much lighter in subject matter and musical vibe. It’s a soulful pop track with another compelling vocal performance, with use of falsetto once more on the title hook. A classy piece of pop songwriting and restores the generally upbeat mood of the rest of the album.

Sixth track Is Love Enough brought to mind the emotive style of early 70’s Todd Rundgren, but the musically colourful arrangement and unexpected chord changes made me think of one of pop’s most underrated songwriters, Jeff Lynne of E.L.O., as well as 80’s group Tears For Fears. Despite all these influences, Herrick stamps his own sonic identity aided by a particularly strong lead vocalist who delivers near the top of their  range. The numerous subtleties and details make for a piece of perfect pop that you’ll never grow tired of.

If I Fall Off The Next Step shows yet another side to Herrick’s songwriting, featuring a female lead vocalist. It’s a delicate, beautifully written acoustic ballad augmented by short bursts of Spanish guitar. Her crystalline singing voice along with with the finger-picked acoustic playing is reminiscent of Joni Mitchell, and the enchanting melody makes it one of the album’s finest tracks.

Nothing Lasts Forever returns to male lead vocals and also a return to the Todd Rundgren-esque sound and style of writing. This is a track where Herrick displays his breadth of harmonic and rhythmic range, with some unpredictable chord changes and subtle use of shifting rhythms and syncopations. There’s some wonderfully jazzy chords after the second chorus that takes the music to another level of sophistication.

The album finishes with another female sung track, Sad Plant. Despite its downbeat title it’s actually an upbeat pop track that recalls elements of Stevie Nicks, Like A Prayer-era Madonna and a more modern pop group like Haim. The song has a summery feelgood vibe and ends this extremely accomplished album on a satisfying high.

Overall, this album is a masterclass in songwriting across an eclectic range of styles and proves emphatically that Howard Herrick deserves to be known as one of the most proficient and versatile songwriters of this era. With the track Hold My Hand he has a dead cert hit with sufficient promotion and there’s several other tracks that would make fine singles. But what makes the album stand out is the musical and emotional range of the songs. Highly recommended.

VERDICT = 9.2 out of 10             

Alex Faulkner

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Visit Howard’s official website HERE

 

 

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SINGLE REVIEW: Please Mr. Postman by The KC Sisters

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The KC Sisters are a five-piece vocal harmony group who range from twenty one to fifteen year old twins, hailing from Connecticut. The five sisters, who are all also multi-instrumentalists, grew up in a very musical household. Their father is Professor of Jazz Studies at The Hartt School Of Music and acts as the musical director for the group. They originally formed as the Casey Girl Sisters in 2004 and released their first album in 2007. They have been performing as the KC Sisters since 2014.

This track, Please Mr. Postman, is a musically faithful cover of The Marvelettes hit from the 1960’s. The song is a perfect showcase for the Sisters’ vocal talents, both individually and collectively. Starting with the chorus in rich four and five-part harmony, the girls then switch to singing a line each on the verse, and each one has their own distinctive tone and timbre.

Their voices combined is a spectacularly rich sound, and the group harmonies are delivered with melodic and rhythmic precision. The musical backing is of a similarly high standard, with a Phil Spector-style arrangement that gradually builds across the track with soaring strings (performed by the Sisters!) towards the end of the song.

Overall, this is a fantastic modern cover of a timeless classic by a family group that hark back to the great vocal harmony groups of the 50’s and 60’s. The sisters are all highly accomplished vocalists in their own right, but together they produce a synergy that’s as strong a sound as perhaps the greatest harmony group, The Beach Boys. I look forward to hearing their original material as all members of the group are songwriters, which bodes well for their long term future. For now, this cover is the perfect introduction to the magical sound of The KC Sisters.

 

VERDICT: 8.8 out of 10 

Alex Faulkner

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