Ben Howard - Every Kingdom

Diverse vocals, jazzily picked guitar lines, and an ingenious grasp of rhythm.

Label: Island

Rating: 8

Ben Howard is a singer/songwriter who happens to play guitar and, perhaps inevitably that lands him in the same category as man-of-the-moment Ed Sheeran. However, the two couldn’t be more different, and the comparisons stop here. Howard has a gentle, beautiful tone to his voice, with adorable, and very unique pronunciation. On ‘Every Kingdom’ he projects himself not through lightening quick delivery, but with dark lyrics and the intriguing manner in which he chooses to play guitar. He lies his guitar flat, hammering it percussively whilst soloing, and there is something about the complex tuning that is far more Nick Drake than Jack Johnson. Howard’s music has an intricacy missing from much of the ‘acoustic folk’ around, and stands out in a crowded field.

Opening track ‘Old Pine’ is full of smoky imagery and natural landscapes that transport you straight to the forest. This song has a beautiful intimacy considering it’s a studio recording, every scritch and quirk is audible, even the subtle sound of fingers lifting off the fret board. You might, in reality, be on the tube – but you may as well be cosied up next to Ben Howard by a roaring fire, with a token lone cellist sat playing on a nearby tree stump.

‘The Wolves’ features some howling- possibly not the most faithful impersonation of a wolf - but nevertheless some delightful vocal aerobics. Howard’s voice was gruff and thoughtful before, now he is falsetto, melodic, occasionally snarling, with a touch of the Tim Buckley. The lyrics take on a sinister edge as Howard sings about “falling through lost spaces”. ‘The Fear’ is full of unanswered questions, worries, and open-ended statements like “I will become what I deserve“. Howard becomes vulnerable; the empty space comes to represent growing apart from someone you were once close to. The metaphors continue coming thick and fast, and it’s thoughtful stuff indeed.

‘Every Kingdom’ is an almost universally appealing album – that is, it would be a challenge to find someone who wasn’t seduced by Ben Howard’s combination of diverse vocals, jazzily picked guitar lines, and ingenious grasp of rhythm. This album is good when it hits full-throttle, but the moments that shine are found in the pockets of quiet. Comparisons to greats like Nick Drake and John Martyn are well earnt, because Ben Howard appears to have wiseness beyond his 22 years.