Steve Howell and the Mighty Men – Good As I Been To You
Out Of The Past Music
Steve Howell has spent the past 40 years fingerpicking his way across Texas, the Southwest, the US and the UK, playing folk country blues and traditional jazz. This is his third album with the Might Men, a quartet of Texarkana musicians. Joining them is Katy Hobgood Ray, a singer, songwriter and children’s book author from Louisiana. The Mighty Men are Chris Michaels also on guitar and vocals, Dave Hoffpauir on drums and vocals, and Jason Weinheimer on bass, organ and vocals. Dave Ray also appears on vocals.
The album opens with “Bacon Fat,” originally written and performed by Andre Williams. I always enjoy Howell’s approach to the guitar. He plays some stinging electric guitar here. His vocals smack of the down home, back country Texas. Next up is Huddie Ledbetter’s “When I Was A Cowboy (Out On The Western Plain)” which was first heard by Alan Lomax when Leadbelly was still in the Louisiana State Penitentiary. Here the tempo is slowed way down and Katy joins Steve for a duet. Howell’s nasal vocals contrast with Ray’s sweet sound as they follow the metered pacing. More ringing guitar tones, resemble ng a cowboy tune rather than Leadbelly. “New Dirty Dozens” is a Memphis Minnie 1930 song that Ray takes on as a country tune. Another slowed down interpretation with electric guitar in a slow swing mode. The next track is “It Hurts To Be In Love,” a NYC Brill Building song Gene Pitney made famous in 1964. Howell once again takes a slower tact, giving this a whole new feel. I’m not sure it worked for me. Walter Davis’ “Come Back Baby” is next, a 1940 cut also covered by Ray Charles and so many others. It begins with a pretty acoustic guitar intro. Again the pacing is turned down and it gives the tune a very dark edge. “Blues In The Bottle” is a Prince Albert Hunt Texas Ramblers 1928 Okeh Records western swing hit. Sans a fiddle and with a slower tempo, this softer and less swinging style is somewhat interesting.
Leadbelly’s “Easy Rider” is sung by Katy here. The pacing remains slow and easy. Instead of the normal feel, we get a more softer and quiet country feel to the cut. “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Any More” was a Frankie Valli hit in 1965 and also a Walker Brothers hit in 1966. Howell remains in a tempo far from the original once again. It becomes very somber in his take on the song. Blind Lemon Jefferson’s “Bad Luck Blues” also takes a somewhat slower tempo that the East Texas original. The electric guitar is pretty. Clarence Harmon’s “Lining Track” is a call and response song used by railroad workers that Howell leads with the band in response. While slow, it has a cool appeal to it and Howell seems comfy acapella here. Things close with Blind Blake’s “You Gonna Quit Me” which was again much slower paced than the original. Howell offers up a nice solo on his electric guitar.
Howell’s approach to this entire CD seems to take a step back with each cut and make it into a slow country folk blues. It works at times, but it seems over done after 11 songs all done in the same style. The guitar work and backing music is really good. The vocals are far too slow paced for me to be in any kind of comfort zone with them. Things are on key and as intended, but I’d prefer an intent that moved along a bit faster. It might not be my cup of tea, but fans of Howell and this style might just grab on to it and enjoy it. It’s perhaps something to sit and listen to as the weather cools down and life slows down from it’s faster summer pace.