|Texan troubadour Steve Howell has made ten albums in the latter phase of his life collaborating with members of his band, The Mighty Men, and many other musicians from Shreveport, Little Rock, and the Ark-La-Tex area. A renowned devotee of roots music and the Great American Songbook, Howell returns with a solo recording of a man and his guitar further mining the depths of roots and blues music. Gallery Of Echoes’ eleven new tracks present sophisticated and affectionate takes on compositions from the catalogue of his heroes, such as Blind Lemon Jefferson, Reverend Gary Davis, and Blind Willie McTell. The album was masterfully engineered by Jason Weinheimer, who also played bass on one track. The music is a master class in finger-picking guitar skills performed on Howell’s beloved Collings and Thompson guitars. Although the songs may be considered “Old Timey,” as they originated in the late 1800’s to the early 1900’s, Howell never resorts to pantomime or minstrelsy, but rather delivers each with authentic grace and the sincere narration from a great blues storyteller.
Blind Lemon Jefferson’s composition, “Stocking Feet Blues,” opens the set with Howell deftly rolling off the walking bass line that sets the form of a man’s lament for a woman who rebuffs his affections. Howell tackles the Appalachian fiddle and banjo tune, “Cluck Old Hen,” bringing the dark comedy from the 1880’s to life with flair. Modern blues fans may be familiar with The Allman Brothers version of “Statesboro Blues” that Howell returns to its original arrangement recorded by Blind Willie McTell in 1928. Another Jefferson tune, “Easy Rider Blues,” was a blueprint for guitarists to perform unison vocal and guitar lines opposite a repeating hook line as demonstrated by Howell to perfection. Known for his many song/sermons Rev. Gary Davis based his “Twelve Gates To The City,” on a Bible verse from Revelations, which Howell delivers with proper reverence and praise.
Delicate major key fingerpicking masks the sorrow and sadness of “All My Friends Are Gone,” and its real-life account of the murder of young Delia Green, who inspired many versions of the song. The maestro performs his impeccable take of the languid ramble “Mississippi Blues,” transcribed from a 1942 Lomax field recording. Howell presents two more numbers from the beloved Rev Gary Davis, the gospel sing along “Sit Down On The Banks Of The River,” and the saucy “Sally, Where’d You Get Your Liquor From?,” further demonstrating his intense scholarship of Piedmont Blues and the man who introduced it to the world in the 1930’s. Howell credits Nick Katzman with the arrangement of the traditional folk song “I’m Going Away,” that features complex melodic contours.
The instrumental track “Dallas Rag,” transcribed from a 1927 recording closes the album as a delicious mignardise of string band confection.
Rick J Bowen
Steve Howell was thirteen when he first heard Mississippi John Hurt fingerpicking country blues. The year was 1965, and the experience became a revelation that opened the door to a new musical universe. As Steve’s journey progressed, Mississippi John Hurt begat Blind Willie McTell and Leadbelly. They in turn begat Robert Johnson, Son House, Rev. Gary Davis, Blind Willie Johnson, Blind Blake, and a host of other black acoustic guitar players and vocalists. His interest in rural, folk-blues styles and the history of the music led him to learn more about how this music came to town and melded with the horn-oriented bands prevalent in the cities, creating a strong affinity for him with traditional jazz and the music of New Orleans from the first half of the twentieth century. His musical Odyssey naturally included the pop, country, rock, and blues music of the last half of the century, but always in the background stood the music of Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, Bill Evans, Lester Young, Jack Teagarden, Art Tatum, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Chet Atkins, Johnny Smith, Wes Montgomery, Bucky Pizzarelli, Joe Pass, George Van Eps, Lenny Breau, and many other great jazz artists. A collection of Steve’s fingerstyle guitar arrangements has been published by Hal Leonard as “Fingerpicking Early Jazz Standards.” He has also published the recently released “Snoozer Quinn: Fingerstyle Jazz Guitar Pioneer.” In 2011, he received the Academy of Texas Music’s Historical Significance Award. Although very interested in many other music styles, including rhythm and blues and rock ‘n’ roll, the heart of Steve’s playing and singing is rooted in the rural acoustic blues and traditional jazz genres born in the American South. More at https://www.stevehowell.ws/steves-bio.html