If there was a more beautiful, idiosyncratic and intelligently-designed debut released this year than Heyward Howkins‘ The Hale & Hearty, then I didn’t hear it. Imagine, if you will, M. Ward and Antony naked and slathered in milk and honey, sealed in a giant clamshell to baste for a thousand years. A millennium from now, long after the oceans have evaporated and the insects once again rule the earth, when the shell opens music-box style, there will be this magnificent pearl sitting there on the half shell, and when you rub it, much like when you wet your finger and run around the lip of a crystal glass, out will come the sound the enchantment, and it will sound like uncannily like The Hale & Hearty.
Heyward Howkins is basically a one-man band of joy helmed by Mr. John Heyward Howkins, a recovering geologist/e-book editor come indie-rock savant. Like most indie-rock savants, his great, great, great, great grandfather was a signer of the Declaration Of Independence — hence the ‘indie’ thing, it’s a family tradition. Born on the not-so-mean streets of the Main Line suburbs of Philadelphia, the son of a poet and a psychiatrist, his is a typical story: boy picks up guitar, puts down everything else and never looks back. Oh, there were early signs things were going to go this way: playing “Louie Louie” in the fifth grade talent show that made the nuns shake a tail feather; the Cure/Smiths cover band in junior high. There was a brief hiatus from The Rock when he earned a geology degree and spent a summer or two mapping rocks and minerals of the Nevada desert. He runs out the clock on the 90’s laboring in the semi-obscurity of go-nowhere local bands and testing soil contamination levels for real estate developers across the fruited plains of southern New Jersey. He marries, procreates twice and sleepwalks his way through the American Dream, putting down roots in Oaklyn, NJ, not far from Walt Whitman’s grave site.
On the side, he works on something much more intimate and unique than anything that’s come before, a sibilant asymmetrical subspecies of chamber pop and ensconces it in a privacy he jealously guards. “I didn’t play music for anybody, barely even my family, ” he says. “I’ll just play in the other room and once in a while someone will hear me.” He records a few songs and on his iPhone and plays them for one Chet Del Campo, a gifted singer-songwriter-record-producer-turned-mobile-x-ray-technician who decides they simply must make an album. Immediately. Only problem is there’s not enough songs for an album. No matter, just keep writing while we record, Del Campo says. And so he does. Favors are called in from friends and family. Some of the finest musical talent in the 215 donates their time and musical chops. There was a palpable sense that, as Roy Schneider says near the end of 2010 something wonderful was about to happen. And so it does. Unto the world an auspicious debut is born. Something hale and hearty and still pink and moist from the womb. “The whole time I was [making The Hale & Hearty"] I’m thinking ‘This is it, I’m never going make any more music, this will be the relic, the artifact that I leave behind, ” says Howkins.. “But now in hind sight I’m like, ‘I can make more music’.” Amen to that. — JONATHAN VALANIA, MAGNET MAGAZINE, December, 2012
DOWNLOAD: Praline Country (Mp3)