Heading West is the fourth Real Music release from guitarist/composer Mike Howe. An ecologist for Welsh national parks by day, Howe’s uncluttered and heartfelt music is always warm, soothing and reassuring. Proving himself to be quite the one-man band, this time Howe performs on guitars, double bass, electric bass, piano, keyboards, and drums in addition to composing, arranging, performing, and producing the music. With the theme of travels throughout the United States, Howe draws on folk, gospel, and jazz influences to create songs that “are reflections and dreams from my journey.” The simple honesty of these fourteen pieces suggests that Howe spent more time in natural open spaces than in the bustling cities where quiet and serenity can be much harder to find.
Heading West begins with “American Travels,” a soft-spoken piece that moves at a leisurely pace and tells its story via guitars, piano, and drums. “Old Wooden House” suggests a time-worn structure that has seen better days and holds generations of precious memories of days gone by. “Badlands” picks up the tempo a bit, adding jazzy bass rhythms to the lead guitar melody and creating a slightly mysterious air. “Navajo Wind” is solo guitar with simple drum accompaniment (and a little wind sound in the background) — very evocative. “The Last Buffalo” is somewhat more orchestrated, but still very spare and mournful. Keyboards take the lead on this piece, which would be magnificent in a soundtrack — heartbreaking in its beauty! “I Can See for Miles” seems to be about freedom and an appreciation for peaceful solitude. “Friends Are Lost” is an introspective and gentle acoustic guitar solo. I really like “Wyoming,” a very visual and spirited piece that evokes images of wild horses running through vast open space. “Drift” is a rapturous slow dance with a gentle sway. Piano, guitar, and light percussion elicit sighs of contentment. I also really like “San Francisco,” which is a bit jazzier with a slight edge and a somewhat darker hue. This must be a late-night San Francisco that’s away from the often manic downtown area! The album closes with “Prairie Dreams,” tranquility set to music.
Mike Howe has released another beauty … recommended!