TITLE: Visions (2019)
ARTIST: Alice Howe
LABEL: SELF PRODUCED
RELEASE DATE: May 17, 2019
Alice Howe’s highly anticipated full-length debut CD, Visions, releases in May 2019. It’s an album that lives up to expectations and could not have been written without plenty of time on the road and a strong love for the process.
Howe’s previous EP, You’ve Been Away So Long, hit the Folk-DJ charts with a #1 song — Homeland Blues — and reached #11 itself. She has recently been selected as a Falcon Ridge Folk Festival Emerging Artist, a Formal Showcase Artist at Northeast Regional Folk Alliance, an Official Showcase Artist at the FAR-West Music Conference, and 2019 Kerrville New Folk Finalist.
Visions is a mix between self-penned songs and some choice covers, all woven together seamlessly. Four of the songs were co-written with her producer, Freebo. Freebo is best known for his years as a bassist for artists like Bonnie Raitt, Ringo Starr, John Mayall, Aaron Neville, Dr. John, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Maria Muldaur and others. For the past twenty years he’s been on the road promoting his own music. His time on the road and in the studio has given him the refined insight to be a perfect mentor for Alice Howe, and they have definitely hit their stride on this collection.
The first track, Twilight, co-written by Alice Howe and Freebo, kicks off the album with a country tinged look at the world through the eyeglass of the traveler. Alice’s crystal-clear vocals give voice to her world view. Her excitement of what nature and the future have to offer, seems far more profound than naïve. She’s definitely found her calling and there is a sense of serenity that comes with that. It’s a theme that flows throughout the album.
Next up is an upbeat and fun cover of the Taj Mahal song Lovin’ In My Baby’s Eyes. The song originally appeared as the opening track of his 1996 album Phantom Blues. Fuzzbee Morse (Bono, Peter Gabriel, Lou Reed, Frank Zappa, Aaron Neville, etc.) adds some clever guitar licks throughout and provides a tasteful solo.
Still on My Mind is another Howe/Freebo co-write that effectively brings to mind the way certain times and settings can provoke memories to rise to the surface — the persistent thought of a friend or lover poking through unexpectedly. The song captures both the persistence of memories and their ability to be invoked by a gentle breeze or a sound of nature.
The self-penned What We Got Is Gold is a gentle love song that allows Alice’s voice to shine. A fairly stripped-down arrangement brings the lyrics forward. There’s a deep appreciation and understanding of the value of a relationship. Love songs often fall into categories of anger and despair or longing to return to what was and unrequited love. What We Got Is Gold” focuses instead on the special love of a heartfelt relationship and how it can be treasured for what it is.
Bring It On Home To Me was originally a Sam Cooke hit back in 1962. It’s a great choice to showcase Alice’s rich and soulful vocals. Freebo’s fretless bass and John “JT” Thomas’ electric piano are both wonderful accompaniment on this passionate interpretation of a classic song.
It can be assumed that Freebo suggested the next track, since Too Long at the Fair appears on Bonnie Raitt’s second album, Give It Up (1972), on which he played fretless bass. Alice gives the song a very rich interpretation.
Visions continues with her cover of a Muddy Waters song, Honey Bee. This R&B hit from 1951 seems at first to be a rather surprising selection for this collection, but Freebo’s arrangement and Howe’s approach make it one of the highlights of the album. Another notable electric guitar solo from Fuzzbee Morse brings together a soulful, rich and honey-dripping vocal performance that showcases Alice’s versatility, while leaving us feeling that she has yet to push the limits of her vocal talents.
The enjoyment continues with Getaway Car another Howe/Freebo song. This soulful rocker is a nice follow-up to the prior song, which in some ways leaves you wanting more. Getaway Car provides a punch with its horns and drums. It’s another song that showcases enjoyment of the road and being a touring musician:
We’ll listen to Muddy, we’ll listen to Taj
Stereo blasting while we get out of Dodge
It’s quite easy to picture Alice and Freebo in the car heading from one gig to another while they came up with this one. There’s a joy here that is contagious.
You Just Never Know, the final Howe/Freebo tune on the CD, continues the theme of the road and the traveling troubadour. Easily an analogy for any road we choose to travel, this deeper look at life’s twist and turns is a more somber look at existence, while maintaining Alice’s positive outlook and ability to appreciate the process.
The collection ends with her cover of Bob Dylan’s Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right from his 1963 album The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. As often as the song has been covered over the years, Alice Howe is able to give it an updated, fresh feel while staying true to the original.
Her years of touring and performing have given Howe the ability to appreciate her role in the history of the traveling troubadour while still enabling her to bring a new light and energy to the music. Mixing new songs with classics from decades ago could lead to a disjointed mess, but Alice and Freebo have brought it all together, showing the continuity in a way that leads to one of the best albums of the year. At a time when the world has many struggles and stresses, it’s a true pleasure to be able to put on and listen to a new album that can make you think, enjoy, and reinvigorate one’s ability to find the positive in the world around us.
Alice Howe and Freebo will be appearing live at McCabe’s Guitar Shop on Saturday, May 18 at 8:00pm. Tickets available here by calling McCabe’s at 310-828-4497. This will be the CD release party so be ready to make your purchase there.
Russ Paris, an avid music enthusiast and collector. He, with his wife Julie, have been the hosts of Russ & Julie’s House Concert series for over 20 years. Russ is also a founder and former board member of Folk Alliance Region West (FAR-West). He and Julie were honored with the annual “Legend Award” by the Topanga Banjo-Fiddle Contest & Folk Festival and the “Best of the West” Ambassador Award from FAR-West. He runs a number of award winning music related websites.