Beautiful Again: Live
As a general principle I am no fan of singer-songwriters -- except the good ones, of course. That means I've taken most of them out of contention. Some years ago, in an interview with Rolling Stone, Bob Dylan complained that these days when he goes to hear a "folk singer," the singer always turns out to be somebody who is playing his or her self-composed songs. The interviewer replied, as tactfully as he could, that it was Dylan himself who had started that sort of thing.
Kate Howden and Paul Jones, now billing themselves as Howdenjones, are singer-songwriters from northwest England. They are not well known -- or, well, known at all -- on this side of the ocean. They ply their trade in British folk clubs and at festivals, with the occasional foray into Ireland, carrying with them a repertoire of original material. The present recording, their fourth (I have not heard the previous three), is from a performance at the Glasson Dock Village Hall before a small but enthusiastic audience.
For no other reason than sheer love of rock cliche, one Wayne Stote instructs us in the liner notes to "PLAY IT LOUD!" Actually, don't. Howden and Jones are backed by an able band (Sarah Cheffins, fiddle, viola; Laurence Canty, bass; Trevor Wagstaff, drums, percussion), but this is not full-tilt rock 'n' roll, but quietly stated, intelligent folk and folk-rock. It won't knock you over on first hearing. It starts working on you on the second, and it gets better each time after that, until you start actively looking forward to hearing it again. In its own modest way, Beautiful Again is a triumph -- not a recording for the ages, perhaps, but a validation of personal art well executed and movingly communicated.
Howden and Jones's influences are not hard to discern. Such stalwarts of the British folk scene as Richard and Linda Thompson, Sandy Denny, Martin Carthy, the Oysterband, even Donovan -- and, of course, tradition -- leave obvious marks. Howdenjones absorb them easily and reassemble them, overlaid by their own musical and emotional sensibility, in 16 solidly written, finely performed songs. Some ("Silver Waters," "Beltaine") sound as if they've been around for much longer than they actually have, and others (the brilliant, clenched-teeth "Your Daddy Has Gone") are pointed, poignant modern tales. All in all, good stuff.