A flow of emotions and a wonderful whirlpool of hope.
South Carolinian Danielle Howle has amassed an impressive back catalogue since her fourth album was released by the Kill Rock Stars label back in 1999. Over the years she has opened for legends like Dylan and Raitt. Although mixing styles, her songwriting has never really lost the essence of her folk and punk roots.
Album number sixteen has Howle returning to the label a result of them contacting her to ask if she would contribute a cover on their proposed tribute to Elliot Smith. She knew Smith personally. Howle and fellow Soda City citizen Josh Roberts (without the Hinges) recorded a beautiful rendition of ‘Angel in the Snow’, a seasonal song you can listen to anytime. It was released at first on the label’s Winter holiday album volume 2 in December 2021. Those in the UK might wryly smile at the album’s title: ‘It’s Hard to Dance when It’s Cold and There’s No Music’.
‘Current’ captures the warmth and the rhythm of the South beautifully. On her website Howle describes her vision as, “one of urgency and connection. I’m just listening to what my spirit and the earth wants me to write right now”. Put bluntly: “I wanted to be folk as fuck, man. Staying very earthy and folky”. She has her heart on sleeve on many of the album’s tracks but that road well-travelled voice remains overall sanguine. And its not hard to dance when an album is awash with some fine tunes such as ‘How is the Rain’ This time Josh Roberts has a hand in all the tracks but only as part of an impressively well chosen band. There’s some mighty fine upright bass playing by Kerry Brooks and Tony Lauria on accordion enhances just about every track. It’s all sensitively produced and mixed by Jeff Leonard Jr.
‘Current’ opens quite forcefully with ‘Live Through’ that projects Howle’s emotive voice. About the track she says, “It’s about losing your ego enough to really be present and love people as they are and have no expectations of them and of yourself”. Well almost, “Loads of anchors stop my ship I got it down to one”, she sings. On ‘Do That Again’ she adds a Latin musical flare to a catchy song dedicated to Columbia, South Carolina’s dance community. ‘The Damage Appears on the Frame’ is intriguingly dark. Some of the imagery takes a moment: “These potted plants, they keep on walking down the street Looking for water or something to be”. On ‘Keep the Light’ a spoken intro is a bit bizarre but the track itself is a good one. Inspiration might have come from Howle’s Shamanic training or maybe her kinship with fellow folk musicians and social activists the Indigo Girls. An optimistic ‘I’m Alright’ is an ode to seeing the good side of life, and not wasting time being angry or upset. A defiant cover of Petty’s Southern Accents is just the penultimate, wonderful track. Howle is, to quote a song title, ‘Back in the Sun’.
Carl Jung said: “Nobody, as long as they move about among the chaotic currents of life, is without trouble”. Songwriting-wise Danielle Howle seems to be bobbing along quite nicely.