John Howard and the Night Mail – John Howard and the Night Mail (2015)

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Though John Howard’s recording career spools back to 1975 and has harvested crops of critical accolades, such offerings have yet to penetrate the mainstream consciousness. The British singer, songwriter and pianist’s genius is now bound to be recognized on a greater scale, however, with John Howard and the Night Mail (available Aug. 21, 2015 via Tapete Records) because it truly steps in as one of the very best albums of the year.

Joining John on the album are Robert Rotifer on guitar, Andy Lewis on bass and mellotron, and Ian Button on drums. Save for a credible remake of Roddy Frame’s “Small World,” the album contains original compositions.

A compatible compound of Broadway grandeur and classic pop rock sensibilities lead the charge on John Howard and the Night Mail, capped with witty, intuitive, and exciting poetry. Every song on the album is anchored by John’s regal vocals and sweeping ivory passages, while Robert, Andy and Ian, who are a tight and focused lot, add subsequent layers of color and tone to the material. These guys are consummate professionals, but they never sacrifice slickness for spontaneous action, resulting in performances bleeding with energy and integrity.

Dipping and curving with rolling tempos, “In The Light Of Fires Burning” serves as an ode to pop history, referencing Joe Meek, Gerry Goffin, the Beatles, and Neil Sedaka in its lyrics, then culminates into a hazy mist of an almost psychedelic-like dirge, and “Control Freak” captures the fellows rocking with determination. A herky-jerky dance hall music influence pierces the instantly infectious “Deborah Fletcher,” and the solid and sparkling “Intact & Smiling” adopts a soulful stance.

Propelled by big gestures and majestic arrangements, “Before,” “London’s After-Work Drinking Culture,” and “Thunder In Vienna” effectively represent John Howard and the Night Mail’s gift for blending showy production thrills with catchy and accessible rhythms and melodies. While John definitely boasts his own unique vocabulary and style, occasional hints of Elton John, Billy Joel, and Procol Harum can be heard throughout his deftly-crafted progressive pop rock songs.

Rife with balance, strength and commanding images, John Howard & The Night Mail is the kind of album set to keep the ears open and the mind awake.

Beverly Paterson

Beverly Paterson

Beverly Paterson was born the day Ben E. King hit No. 4 with "Stand By Me" -- which is actually one of her favorite songs, especially John Lennon's version. She's contributed to Lance Monthly and Amplifier, and served as Rock Beat International's associate editor. Paterson has also published Inside Out, and Twist & Shake. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Beverly Paterson
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