Mike Howe’s debut release in 2009, Time Stands Still, was such a breath of fresh air that I was very anxious to see and hear if he could maintain that kind of quality a second time. I’m thrilled to answer that burning question with a resounding “YES!” The Welsh composer, guitarist, and ecologist returns with Round River, a collection of fifteen original pieces that are mostly solo acoustic guitar. A few of the tracks include bass, keyboards, and percussion, which are also performed by Howe. Like Time Stands Still, the music on Round River is easy going and uncomplicated, yet it feels like an intimate glimpse into its creator’s soul. Have you ever accidentally encountered a lone guitarist off by himself or herself totally lost in his or her music and playing from that special place inside where true artistry resides? That’s what this album feels like. There is no pretense or exhibitionism — just honest and soulful music that comes from a very gentle heart. The liner notes for Round River give a fascinating account of the origin of the title, which comes from Aldo Leopold’s classic text that discussed a mythical round river as a metaphor for ecology. Rather than a linear flow, the flow was circular, forever flowing around and back into itself so that a community and its landscape could never be separate. That’s an oversimplification, but clearly shows that Howe’s music is very closely tied to nature and the need to preserve and respect it. There isn’t a weak track on Round River. All fifteen pieces are soft-spoken and leisurely, creating a peaceful mood and a sense of well-being.