There are few things that will immediately restore your faith in country music quicker than listening to a record from North Carolina’s John Howie Jr. and his stellar band The Rosewood Bluff. The former frontman of the renown, but now defunct Two Dollar Pistols never disappoints, and with his new album Everything Except Goodbye, he even manages to exceed expectations.
John Howie Jr. is one of those artists you don’t have to spend any time warming up to. Right off the bat you know this is real country, and real good. Pedal steel, a true country voice, and rock solid songs suck you in and have you saying to yourself, “Now this is what I mean when I say country music.” No need for “alt” or “Americana” qualifiers here, this is country music how it’s supposed to be.
John Howie Jr. has always loomed large as a frontman and singer, but there’s a few tracks on Everything Except Goodbye where he figures out how to downright outdo himself. He simply sings the hell out of the songs on this album, testing his range and dexterity like never before, resulting in him really squeezing the true emotion out of the story and drawing your ear in. His excellent vocal performances start with the title track. He hits a bass note on “Everything Except Goodbye” that would even make Richard Sterban of the Oak Ridge Boys go “Damn,” while a lonesome warble and other delicate inflections define the very sound of heartache. The slow “Goin’ Under (All Over Again)” is another one Howie sings the hell out of. Howie’s vocals really speak to the extra effort he put out on this album.
Though this is very much a straightforward country record from start to finish, a lot of different textures are touched on. “A Hell Of A Note” has to be one of the album’s best songs. Such a classic country story, it’s a song you would have expected one of country’s legendary heroes to have written years ago. “The Wash-Up” shows a different, growling, more honky tonk, or Waylon side of Howie that he rarely shows off, but nails on the head when he does. And if you’re going to tackle Mickey Newbury, especially the oft-covered “Why You Been Gone So Long,” you better stand on your head and deliver a flawless performance, and that’s what John Howie Jr. & Rosewood Bluff do.
Speaking of Rosewood Bluff, as much as Howie impresses pulling off his duties as singer and songwriter, his band matches the high bar Howie sets. Joining him is the stunning female bass player Billie Feather. With her flaming red hair and adept bass work, she adds that fire and legitimacy to the band that only a female can. She also contributes banjo to the album’s final track “Blue” which is the little extra wrinkle that makes that song something special. Pedal steel player Nathan Golub is the guy that really deserves the blame of the music itself on Everything Except Goodbye sounding so damn good. And Dave Hartman on drums and electric guitar player Tim Shearer have that “in-the-pocket” expertness that really gets John Howie Jr.’s sound.
About the only head shaker is when John Howie Jr. decides to cover notorious Compton, California gangsta rap artist Easy-E’s X-rated song “Nobody Moves, Nobody Gets Hurt” off of his controversial 1988 release Eazy-Duz-It … Okay I’m screwing with you, “Nobody Moves, Nobody Gets Hurt” is actually Howie doing what he does best: making those simple observations of life and referencing them in meaningful ways through the witty use of language.
John Howie Jr. & Rosewood Bluff really have the country music formula down of how to sound familiar, while still sounding fresh and original.
A great country album.
Two guns up.
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