JAMES STANLEY HOWEN – Side by Side
(2005 Songbird Recordings)
Written by Andy Ziehli
Side by Side is an appealing collection by James Stanley Howen, Harry Hamm, and Donny Weber who, individually and collectively, wrote all of the songs. The eleven tracks have a Robert Earl Keen/Roger Miller feel to them; in other words they are story-songs in the truest sense.
Howen, who hails from Polonia (near Stevens Point), is a singer in the style and sound of Buddy Jewel. He has a deep baritone voice and uses it well to convey these very descriptive songs.
The CD kicks off with “Where the Mighty Rivers Meet” with a super-cool Native American flute intro played by Nathan Lee and haunting fiddle by Tommy Greywolf. This tale of a love lost to frontier hardship will paint a story in your mind. “Tell Mama,” an up-tempo truck driving song, is 60s country all the way with tasty steel guitar licks provided by Jory Simmons. “Some Guys (Have all the Luck)” is a track about a guy who partners up with a friend to write songs and the friend becomes a big star while the storyteller gets nowhere. The interesting weaving of words and situations in “Beside Myself” is reminiscent of Roger Miller’s “Kansas City Star” in its whimsical look at life at a precise point in time. The song “We’ll Dance” is a 70s-style country duet with Lisa Hannon, reminiscent of the classic George-and-Tammy and Conway-and-Loretta duets that you just don’t hear anymore. Hannon is a super vocalist in her own right, adding zip and sassiness. “Too Late (To Say I Love You)” closes the album out with sweet sentimentality and an outstanding instrumental coda that features some fine interplay between the electric lead and steel guitar.
The artwork by Liam McLaughlin, who also does the artwork for the Reverend Eddie Danger and the Feel Good Festival, is superb, with descriptive Americana drawings that depict the lyrical elements of each song.
Side by Side was produced, arranged, engineered and mixed by guitarist Danny Weber who also turns in some stellar performances, especially on “Too Late.” It was recorded at Lintrick Studios in Burlington, Wisconsin, and the vocals were cut at Howen’s home studio. Howen’s voice is perfect for this style of music and the full complement of backup musicians know their stuff. The sound is clear and bright, although the drums and bass are a bit too far back in the mix.
Side by Side is a genuinely mature country CD from a man who’s been writing songs for thirty-five years. Mighty fine, mighty fine!