by Mike Howe
Mike Howe is a late comer to writing songs and didn't start until his mid-30's but has made up for lost time by
releasing an album a year since he started in 2009. Mike is a
multi-instrumentalist and his albums feature a combination of electric guitars,
acoustic guitars, piano, drums and bass that allows Mike's talent to shine
through regardless of what instrument that he might be using at the moment.
Mike was nominated for Best New Artist in 2009 and has had nominations as Best
Acoustic Instrumental Album in 2010 and 2011. Not bad for someone who got into
the game late.
Mike's latest album is called Heading West and was
recently released on the Real Music label out of California. As you might suspect
by the title this album chronicles Mike's travels through the American west.
Through some beautiful compositions Mike will leave you marveling at how well
he has managed to capture what he experienced on this journey in his
music. Although Mike is a multi-instrumentalist and can do justice to a variety
of instruments on his recordings he really shines when he picks up his guitar
and begins to play his emotions into life. The music on Heading West is a
peaceful journey and one that evokes the many landscapes that Mike must have
encountered during his time in the west. With titles like Old Wooden House,
Badlands, Prairie Dreams or I Can See For Miles you can understand some of what
Mike was trying to translate into music as he wrote this album. Oftentimes
Mike's music reminded me of another wonderful guitarist who has made a name for
himself playing in the jazz field named Pat Metheny. There are times that
Mike's music on Heading West flirts with a soft jazz vibe but as you listen it simply becomes a part of the overall sonic canvas that he is painting for you and each new layer brings out more of the depth that he is trying to communicate to the listener.
The music on Heading West is emotional music that
communicates a deep appreciation of what Mike saw during his travels out west.
The trick for any instrumental artist is to tell a story with music alone
without using any words to describe what you are seeing or feeling. Heading
West is a perfect example of exactly how an artist best accomplishes this
difficult task. Listening to Heading West is like sitting down with an old
friend who has just returned from an extended vacation trip and wants to tell
you all about it. Instead of using the clichéd presentation of photo slides
Mike pulls out his guitar and begins to show you through his songs what he saw
on his trip. The songs on this album are intimate in nature in that they
communicate the deep feelings that a person has when confronted with the beauty
and majesty of nature at its finest. In fact it might be that a musician has a
better chance of sharing such an experience with someone else because they
don't have to search for the right words to do justice to what has been seen.
All in all the music on Heading West is of a quiet
and calming nature which allows the
images that are embedded in the music to be shared with the listener with
little or no effort on the part of the listener. Mike Howe's music is a
delicate collage filled with images of the vastness of the desert or the
prairie and able to take in an old wooden house that he ran across as well. He
has skillfully woven all of this together like a quilter pulling together
patches of cloth to make a wonderfully beautiful quilt that is much greater
than the sum of all its parts. The songs on Heading West weaves together all of
the sights of the American west and presents them to the listener as this
marvelous creation that can be enjoyed as a whole or as the individual memories
(songs) that represent a different part of the overall experience. Mike has
crafted a great collection of 14 songs on this latest release and this album
certainly does not disappoint this reviewer. In fact it raises the bar just a
bit and now our expectations of Mike's future music and perhaps other
instrumental artists as well will shift just a little higher. We will expect
just a little bit more the next time we sit down to listen to our favorite
Some of my favorite songs on this album are Navajo Wind, Desert Solitaire, Friends Lost and San Francisco which by the way is one of those songs that borders on if not outright crosses the border into light jazz. I can see the difficulty artists have when they are asked if they have a favorite track on a new release and they are forced to pick a song out of music that they have labored over for months or years and say they like this one better than the others. Let's just say that all of them are great tracks but the ones above stood out to me over the many times that I have listened to this album over the past few months. Ask me again in a few months' time I might give a different answer with different favorite tracks. Just try them all and find your own special songs on this album. You will be glad you did. Recommended by Ambient Visions.
Michael Foster, editor Ambient Visions