Steve Howell & the Mighty Men,
Yes, I Believe I Will
(Out of the Past, 2013)

Folk and blues artist Steve Howell plays a mean guitar. On acoustic, he is smooth and tasty, creating bluesy licks that caress the lyrics of the song, while on resonator, he plays fills that accent the acoustic, commenting on the main guitar. His song choice is all over the map, from Terry Garthwaite to Mel Tillis with a detour through Dock Boggs, Willie Brown and a bunch of traditional material.

The Mighty Men consist of Chris Michaels on electric guitar and bass, Dave Hoffpauir on drums and Jason Weinheimer on keyboards; they keep the rhythm steady and the arrangements moving.

Everybody knows what he's doing and everybody contributes. On the surface, it would seem like a combination like this would come up with something fine. So why did I come away from several listenings dissatisfied, as though I'd just eaten a meal where my host forgot to serve the entree?

Part of it is Howell's voice. It isn't bad. He can get around a tune OK but everything sounds the same. It's as if the voice lacks flexibility. Howell tends to approach every song the same way, singing with the same amount of emphasis, the same vocal stylings. There is no variation.

Another part of it is the level of politeness in the vocals. Everything comes across as safe, as if he doesn't want to take a risk vocally. He sings Dock Boggs' "Hustling Gamblers" the same way he sings "Keep Your Lamp Trimmed & Burning." The Boggs' tune, a song about a man facing his death, never convinces you in the interpretation that Howell actually feels what he is singing.

Because his vocals never raise above the level of the polite, Yes, I Believe I Will never rises above the level of promising.

music review by
Michael Scott Cain

28 December 2013

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