Alice Howe Mines the Classic Bluesy Folk of the 1960s and 1970s with 'Visions'
There's an uncomplicated beauty to Alice Howe's music, and on Visions' ten songs, the beauty rarely falters.
17 May 2019
There's something oddly comforting and recognizable about Alice Howe's music. What she's crafted in the ten songs on Visions, her first full-length album, is an ingenious throwback. She's not inventing any new genres, but paying deep respect to another era. Steeped in blues, folk, and the singer/songwriters so prevalent in '60s and '70s Southern California, Howe's original songs and well-chosen covers make for a deeply satisfying experience that's essentially a deep dive into the past with just enough of an update to make it sound fresh and new.
Howe has plenty of firepower on Visions to make the performances click. Produced by fretless bassist Freebo – known for his work with Bonnie Raitt, Loudon Wainwright III, Maria Muldaur, and Dr. John, among others - the two are joined by guitarist Fuzzbee Morse, keyboardist John 'JT' Thomas and percussionist John Molo, West Coast musicians whose collective resumes could fill up any self-respecting music fan's record collection.
Not that Howe comes off as a naïve beginner propped up by studio legends. Far from it. Her warm, radiant voice meshes beautifully with the instruments, and her luminous original songs stand their ground alongside the covers. Howe's "Twilight" is an eloquent, uncomplicated country-tinged folk that will likely invite comparisons to Mary Chapin Carpenter or even Joan Baez when her voice jumps into soprano range. Another original song, "Getaway Car" shifts to a bluesy shuffle with a rousing horn section and killer Hammond B-3 organ riffs. "Still on My Mind" is an assured, stately mid-tempo number that would feel right at home among folk-rock playlists of decades past.
But as sharp as Howe's songwriting chops can be, it's the eclectic selection of covers that really make Visions such a satisfying listen. Muddy Waters' "Honey Bee" is punctuated by bluesy guitar licks and crisp, retro-leaning electric piano. Joel Zoss' classic "Too Long at the Fair" (previously covered by Bonnie Raitt, an obvious influence on Howe) is interpreted flawlessly here, with the dramatic instrumentation intersecting beautifully with Howe's voice. Sam Cooke's unimpeachable "Bring It on Home to Me" is transformed from a soul classic to an infectious blues/soul hybrid, with Stax-influenced horns and Freebo's fretless bass among the litany of musical highlights.
Visions closes with yet another cover, Bob Dylan's "Don't Think Twice, It's all Right", and like several of the other songs on the album, it's been recorded by a slew of other artists. But once again, Howe puts her unique stamp on the song, keeping the arrangement simple with steady acoustic guitar and exquisite harmonies. There's an uncomplicated beauty to Alice Howe's music, and on Visions' ten songs, the beauty rarely falters.