Steve Howell & Jason Weinheimer,
A Hundred Years from Today
(Out of the Past, 2017)

Steve Howell is a fingerstyle guitarist from Texas who has pursued a career primarily in the Texas-Louisiana region, generally working with his band, the Mighty Men. On this album, he leaves the Men behind and is accompanied only by bassist Jason Weinheimer. The result is a laid-back, mellow country blues record that has the relaxed quality of back porch music to it.

With the sparse instrumentation and Howell's casual, soft voice, the record doesn't push. It refuses to insist. Instead, it simply assumed its own value and is its own reason to exist. It is music to relax with; you don't come to A Hundred Years from Today in order to get worked up and energized.

Howell has chosen to concentrate on existing material from the 1920s and '30s, instead of writing songs for this disc. A huge Mississippi John Hurt fan, he does "Louis Collins" and "Got the Blues, Can't be Satisfied" from Hurt's catalogue, but also goes both jazz and pop standards from the era, including the title song, a version of jazz master Jack Teagarden's "A Hundred Years from Today." "Basin Street Blues" and "Limehouse Blues" done as an medley with "After You've Gone" are both here -- both, like everything else on this album, well-played and lovingly sung, made fresh again in these stripped-down elemental approaches.

Howell obviously loves these songs and loves Mississippi John Hurt finger-picking guitar and has a good time performing this material. Occasionally, as on "Basin Street Blues," he brings out the electric guitar to add a touch of variety to the arrangements.

Is there a flaw here? Well, the fact of the matter is that Howell is not a great singer. His voice is pleasant but offers little variation and does nothing to put the songs across; he simply carries the tunes without vocally enhancing them.

So, the vocals are mainly to be tolerated to in order to hear the guitar and the bass. That's good enough for me.

music review by
Michael Scott Cain

9 September 2017

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