Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

CD Review: Nicholas Howard – God Is in the City

Unlike what the title might have you believe, this isn’t a gospel album although there is a gospel influence in a lot of the songs. With his raspy tenor voice, Jackson Heights, New York’s own Nicholas Howard delivers a whole lot of hooks and a feel for soul music that blends a vintage Detroit and Philly sound, circa 1970. It’s definitely retro yet infused with new ideas and fresh energy – this guy is putting his own stamp on it rather than just being derivative. Refreshingly, he’s got a real band behind him rather instead of the ubiquitous synth, drum machine and maybe a handful of samples in what’s left of “R&B.” This could be what John Legend might dream of making if he didn’t have the corporate overseer standing over him, whip in hand, ready to crack it the second he does anything original or interesting. No autotune here either: God was definitely in the studio when this was recorded.

The title track is a big gospel-fueled anthem yet is extremely simple and terse. It would make a good theme for a show like The Wire. In the middle, it goes doublespeed and then suddenly back to the main theme, an ambitious move that doesn’t really work.  So Much Left to Say is a slinky organ groove with a turn-of-the-decade sound, just around the time soul was getting orchestrated but before it lost that delicious trebly tube amp guitar feel. Horns come in and juice up the end of the chorus, then the song ends cold.

With bit of a reggae feel, My Hands Are Rough – “I need a drink, a dance or two, I am jonesing” would have been a big dancefloor hit in the 70s. Life Is a Mystery is quite a change, opening with a little quote from the James Bond theme and then getting carnivalesque, even noir. If Tom Waits was a soul singer he might do something like this. Howard maintains the mysterious vibe with Scotch on Her Lips, a slow jam where he’s fallen under the spell of a boozy witch, electric piano dripping eerily.

Blood from a Stone kicks off with a staccato piano riff, eventually building to an insistent, New Orleans-tinged “stay out of my life” anthem. Then it goes doublespeed as the organ swirls and the rubber meets the road. The gentle, Memphis-style 6/8 ballad Mother features some vivid Steve Cropper style guitar – it would be perfectly at home on a Robert Cray album. Different View takes a lazy Bill Withers-style groove and makes trip-hop out of it.

The cd winds up with the strikingly dark psychedelic Weimar blues of Carnival and the upbeat, horn-driven What If I’ve Shown You It All. You’re going to see this on our Best Albums of 2009 list at the end of the year. Watch this space for live dates.

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June 12, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment