James Howard’s latest single is the melodious melancholy of ‘County Line’, a musically captivating and lyrical journey through the subject of drugs. There’s a real richness in the carefully-crafted sonic layers, soaring backing vocals and instrumentation. Meanwhile, the slow, tuneful lullaby-feel contrasts with the darkness of Howard’s words: “Salty little tear falling on the county line // Pocketful of fears, deliveries arrive on time.” His dreamy vocal is particularly effective, especially when dipping and falling into those lower notes. Howard says of the song: “This is, as with most songs that are about drugs, thinly veiled. You have a delivery girl, a dealer (Jason/the Snowman), and people sniffing the goods and getting lost in their aura of their own hot air. The lap steel makes it somewhat country, though we’re firmly in England.” Indeed, that blend of trans-Atlantic sounds and influences is what makes ‘County Line’ distinctive and engaging.
The video, created by Danny Nellis, finds Howard singing to the skies in the wet and windswept countryside. Nellis explains the concept: “The video for ‘County Line’ sees James cast as a lonesome ranger, scouring the Home Counties and its borders by foot and his Toyota Aygo. Whether he’s making deliveries or searching for something is up to the viewer.” Howard adds: “To make the video, Danny and I spent a couple of days filming mainly around Oxfordshire, which is namechecked in the song and in the Edward Thomas poem lurking behind it. We went to Avebury too, where we ate an overpriced pie. We were looking for something but we weren’t sure what. The video features some of England’s weird magic: the ridgeway, the Headington shark, birds of prey circling overhead, red cars against the green, and lines, lots of lines, leading everywhere and nowhere.” That idea of leading everywhere and nowhere is at the heart of the song’s sense of mystery.
The single is the second taken from the brand new album, ‘Peek-a-Boo’, released on 14th April 2023. The songs were captured live in the studio with Howard playing alongside collaborators Dana Gavanski (bass), Charlie Stock (violin and viola) and Ben MacDiarmad a.k.a John Johanna (electric guitar). Recorded with Capitol K (Kristian Robinson), on whose label the album is released, Howard’s songs are dreamily ethereal, well-crafted tales with a hint of psychedelia and magic. Check it out.