Tend The Fire is a slow-building slice of Americana that adds more and more elements as it progresses. A pleasingly complex lyric mixes metaphor with anecdotal reflection and charts the course of a relationship through a wealth of changes of perspective and emotion. The decision to have female backing voices sing the major hooks in the chorus is an interesting one, as it implicates a partner as being complicit in the outcome of the narrative.
Howard’s voice is a gentle, careworn and honest instrument that tunefully picks its moments of emphasis with care. He relates some parts in a very direct and almost-spoken delivery and then picks up the energy for moments of revelation.
Instrumentation is quite acoustic, but more elements are added as the tune progresses. It has distinct chapters of atmosphere, as piano and drums and electric guitar add momentum to proceedings. It’s a satisfying romp through a songwriter’s book of tricks and refers to the songwriter’s lot as a part of the narrative, making it hard not to conclude that the content is very personal to Howard.
Don’t Keep Me Waiting is a cover originally recorded by McKendree Spring in 1972. Both sides of Howard’s vocals are explored more thoroughly on this song, and it sounds to this reviewer that he is relishing getting his teeth stuck into his interpretation of another writer’s work. The initial more timorous delivery creates a noticeable dynamic contrast with the more impassioned moments as the song concludes.
There is a slightly jerky take on the flow of the instrumentation, which screams out of homespun and live recordings. I’d certainly love to believe that’s how this rich recording began its life. The addition of organ and harmonica as voices on the recording all lend a heart-warming authenticity to proceedings and set up a healthy anticipation for the remainder of his new album.