It’s just three years since the Boston-based Howe decided to make music a full-time career, the catalyst being meeting Bonnie Raitt’s legendary bassist, Freebo, at a folk music conference. He invited her to Bakersfield, offering to produce her debut album as well as co-writing several of the songs, channelling such diverse influence as Mitchell, Baez, Muddy Waters and Taj Mahal into a collection that pays homage but is never slave to the 60s and 70s folk and blues on which she was raised.
Working with a tight house band, Freebo on fretless bass, Visions is a mix of originals and well-chosen covers from her parents’ record collection, kicking off with the Howe/Freebo co-write ‘Twilight’, a waltzing, reflective rootsy number about choosing between a relationship that pins you down or following the road stretching before you that afford as an early taste of her pure and airily flowing mezzo-soprano voice.
The first of the covers comes with a soulful, relaxed interpretation of Taj Mahal’s ‘Lovin’ In My Baby’s Eyes’, electric guitar provided by Fuzbee Morse with Al Keith colouring the percussion on congas. It’s followed by another co-write, the folksy fingerpicked ‘Still On My Mind’ with its nature imagery lyrics that again talk of memoires but also the call of a life yet unexplored and a restlessness as she sings how “I sat down by the riverside/Fearing I could drink it dry/And still not be satisfied”.
The sole self-penned number, coloured by John JT Thomas on accordion, ‘What We Got Is Gold’ is a gentle acoustic love song about valuing a relationship, especially when the life of a travelling musician means you may be often parted. Next up is the second of the five covers, Sam Cooke’s classic ‘Bring It On Home To Me’, a slow soulful sway on which her crystal vocals are complemented by Morse’s guitar licks, Thomas’s bluesy electric piano and warm trumpet and sax from Lee Thornburg and Paul Perez, respectively.
Freebo gets to revisit his past with the folk-gospel ‘Too Long At The Fair’, a song previously recorded by Raitt on her 1972 Give It Up album on which he played, the version here fairly faithful to that although you might detect hints of Marvin Gaye’s cover of ‘Abraham, Martin and John’ to the musical texture.
She stays with the blues for a slow burn though Muddy Waters’ ‘Honey Bee’ before amping up the charge for the bluesy swing co-write ‘Getaway Car’ (another life on the road track) with Thomas letting rip on Hammond organ and a full blown brass section scratching that itch.
The final co-write, another travelling troubadour lyric, is a country waltzer ‘You Just Never Know’ that brings in Jeff Fielder on dobro and Geoff Goodhue on mandolin, the album closing with one last cover featuring just Howe and Freebo for a simple strummed, slower paced and more reflective reading of Dylan’s ‘Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright’. One of the dictionary definitions of a vision is something beautiful. Seems appropriate.
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Artist’s website: www.alicehowe.com
‘Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright’ – live: