Howard Gladstone,
Candles on the River
(independent, 2005)

Howard Gladstone has a particular brand of folk music that's unlike most of what I'd call great music. Though his music is more complex than a lot of folk styles, his lyrics, his voice and the slow, flowing rhythm that is consistent all the way through the CD is basically a heart-warming melody. It's not quite as sweet as maple syrup -- more like the warm burst of a blueberry when you bite into the pancake. And no matter what your station, regardless of your fears, your failures, your hopes or awards, eating a warm blueberry pancake is a fine, large human experience.

Gladstone is a singer-songwriter whose soft voice often stirs things up unexpectedly when his lyrics bite into the social conscience of humanity and touch us right in the heart. That's the kind of style evident in Gladstone's second CD, Candles on the River. Although the lyrics have an edge, they aren't in your face. The edginess points toward humanity and caring, giving a voice to many troubled souls. While the CD plays, Gladstone's songs take you away from the loneliness of injustice because the loneliness disappears when shared. His understated voice and lyrics somehow produce songs of strength and courage.

I wasn't completely sold on Gladstone's first recording, Sunflowers Light the Room; while I appreciated the lyrics, I wasn't in tune with the style. Now, with Candles on the River, I'm enthralled. The way Gladstone delivers lyrics, it's as if you are hearing him sculpt a song. Just like ice carvers at a winter festival, Gladstone shapes ordinary words into beautiful visions. And he inserts pauses that add to the delight, to the image, to the mood and to let you savour the whole thing.

Guitar by Gladstone, and lots of help from fine musicians such as Tony Quarrington, make for arrangements that really make the songs interesting. My favorite is "Down to the Delta," with a bit of blues going on. It satisfied. "Fishing by the Book" and "Candles on the River" have smart arrangements, but the whole CD is a statement crafted by Gladstone, in the Gladstone style, and I like it very much.

by Virginia MacIsaac
8 April 2006

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