2015 / mikehowe.com
Review by Michael Debbage
While this is the fifth cd from the Welsh guitar player Mike Howe it does represent his first release outside of his prior recording label Real Music. With no label restrictions or agenda’s Howe self funded and was free to do what he felt compelled to compose and unexpectedly there are no huge surprises. Essentially taking elements from all of his prior releases from the almost meditative debut to the more recent elements of light jazz we heard from Heading West, Lichens is essentially a conglomeration of the Mike Howe that we have come to know and love.
While Howe tends not to venture too much from his winning formula, each time he presents his listeners with a new recording there are always slight tweaks in his musical explorations. While Lichens is potpourri of his prior recordings what is slightly noticeable is a more reoccurring appearance of the electric guitar though still reserved and restrained as it intermingles with his beautiful acoustic work. Hints of these changes are evident before you even begin your listening experience. Just take a look at the rugged mountain cover photo which is very different to the soft pastel colors we have seen on his prior album covers.
For those of you who really enjoyed his first three albums and refuse to move with the artists exploration you will have to wait until track 4 where Howe’s acoustic guitar work gentle flirts with his piano playing on “Plains”. The mellow moments continue with the laidback “You Know Me” and even the more reflective “Firelight” and downright lazy jazz of “Swim”. They are countered by the more assured percussive work on “Mosaic” along with the return of the electric guitar found on the two opening tracks. A similar tempo to “Mosaic” can also be found on the upbeat “Run”.
Whether or not Mike Howe will continue to self fund his future recordings taking such a financial risk is unknown but it may prompt the question whether or not he should be taking greater musical risks. Nevertheless Lichens does absolutely nothing to harm the remarkable recording career of an artist that still has his best yet to come.
September 24, 2015