Over the past few months there's been something of a buzz surrounding west country singer-songwriter Ben Howard, and his debut album Every Kingdom proves exactly the fine judgement of attendees of his many sell out gigs.
Every Kingdom opens with former single 'Old Pine' sounding delicately picked John Mayer-esque acoustic guitar with a gentle melody picked out over which ooh vocals gently ooze sounding resemblance to the likes of Bon Iver and Fleet Foxes with their warmth and ability to melt. The stunningly beautiful combination of this delicate guitar together with Howard's haunting vocal is instantly entrancing, especially when perfectly complemented by the later inclusion of cello. 'Diamonds' then opens in a bluesy atmospheric vein akin to Damien Rice and forthcoming tour mates Brother & Bones, with double bass and brushed drum accompaniment complete with ripples of atmospheric rolling cymbals before the track kicks into more of a stomping feel with a stronger, fast paced beat. A similar kind of atmospheric build is glimpsed later in 'Black Flies', of the albums' closing tracks.
Opening with an ooh refrain, 'Wolves' then continues into a gentle, cello-flanked, Mayer-esque track, again drenched in flavours of Damien Rice but that's definitely no criticism. The howling, Buckley-esque, wonderfully strong chorus vocals are also suggestive of the title of the track, its subject. With 'Everything', Howard takes us back to the stripped back, down-tempo delicacy exposed in the albums' opening track; one man plus his guitar together with nothing but suggestions of electric guitar sounds for the majority of the track, except for the sensitive heartbeat throb of a drum towards the tracks' close. Chopping into a faster paced, fuller sounded track, 'Only Love' again further emphasises Howard's flexibility, versatility and adds another dimension to the differing emotions captured by each of his perfectly penned songs; the same goes for 'The Fear', which, as its title perhaps suggests, sounds an on edge feel with a pushing, anxious pace led by Howard's distinctive picked guitar line.
The highlight track of the album, probably its' most commercial track is recent single 'Keep Your Head Up', a steady paced track with thoughtful lyrics and a strong, catchy and uplifting, motivating, almost pop chorus. Through the combination of smooth, beautiful vocals, pensive lyrics and delicate picked guitar lines and the versatility to sound the gentle and atmospheric alongside the faster paced and more motivated, Howard, still only in his early 'twenties proves he has the maturity and ability of his UK folk and record label predecessors Nick Drake and John Martin, but enough youthful drive to sound contemporary and fresh. A very promising start.