Music

Verse-Chorus-Verse: Howard Hewett

Artist/producer PC Muñoz mines for gems and grills the greats

An earlier edit of this V-C-V first appeared on pcmunoz.com on December 20, 2005

"Say Goodbye" - Howard Hewett

Written by Monty Seward

From It's Time, Eagle Records reissue, 2004

Originally released in 1994

First, a little background: I'm a complete Solar Records freak. Solar was a Southern California R&B/disco label, active mostly in the late '70s and '80s, that released consistently tasty dance music featuring killer bass lines, undeniable hooks, and shiny production, often provided by the super-talented Leon Sylvers III. Some of Solar's best releases came out during the early '80s, which is my favorite era of modern R&B because of its adventurous mix of funk, synth-pop, new wave, and disco.

Howard Hewett first became famous with Shalamar, one of Solar's mainstay artists. Shalamar was at first glance a kind of prefab disco group; the two other members were future hitmaker-superstar Jody Watley and trendsetting dancer/choreographer Jefferey Daniel. Though all three members were talented and charismatic, I always found myself drawn to Hewett's vocals. He is a masterful, nuance-filled singer, and his glittery high notes and vocal gymnastics turned ditties like "This is for the Lover in You" and "Sweeter As the Days Go By" into soul-stirring testimonies. After departing Shalamar in the mid-'80s, Hewett embarked on a risk-taking solo career that has included unique, soul-injected versions of The Eagles' "I Can't Tell You Why" and Dylan's "Just Like a Woman", proving he is bent on using his voice for interesting interpretive means.

"Say Goodbye" was written by songwriter/producer Monty Seward, a longtime close collaborator of Hewett's. It is a piano-and-vocal ballad of the highest order: uncluttered accompaniment, concise, truth-telling lyric, and a haunting, intense vocal performance. Hewett's vocal is so impressive here, it's almost distracting from the "let's-get-real" message of the lyric, which possesses a disarming, quiet power. I personally like every line of the lyric, but dig this concluding verse:

We could say all the words we need to hear:

I love you, and I love you too, my dear

We could take romance to heights unknown

But when we're done, still feel all alone

We could find just the right words to say:

I still love you, but it's not the same...

We could "take the time to clear our minds"

Or we could say

Goodbye

Throughout "Say Goodbye", Seward's lyric and Hewett's vocal perfectly capture the shattered emotions of a couple who know they're about to part. Emotional procrastination, denial, keeping up appearances, and sexual backsliding are all covered with a deft but delicate touch, leaving the astute listener a little shell-shocked. It's no wonder the first vocal sound we hear on the track is Hewett taking a deep breath--as if he was steeling himself for the perilous emotional task of navigating his way through this song.

It would have been difficult to predict the complex emotions of something like "Say Goodbye" just by listening to Hewett's work with Shalamar. That's always the beauty of following an interesting artist; we're never quite sure where they're going to take us. As much as I love Hewett's early work, I'm glad he decided to deal with subjects beyond romantic love and the dancefloor. Hewett's voice, always rapturously beautiful, is a decidedly compelling vehicle for the intricacies and subtleties of the darker side of love, and "Say Goodbye" is a first-rate example of the depth of material his solo career covers. Check out his current MySpace page here.

You can always blast the Shalamar hits afterwards.

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