Apr 7, 2012
“By the side of the sleepy canal . . .” and a beckoning bed of strings. So begins ‘The Hale & Hearty’, the debut release from Heyward Howkins. Produced by Chet Delcampo (an accomplished artist in his own right who has been linked with Smokey Robinson, Kid Congo Powers, David Lovering, and Fred Myrow). Like a patchwork suit, it’s equal parts British tweed (see Nick Drake, John Cale, The Smiths) and dusty American flannel. Heyward has crafted an album with diverse sounds and surprising arrangements that compliment, but never overwhelm, his evocative melodies and lyrics.
Paying tribute to his family’s long and storied history, Heyward takes his name from his five-times grandfather Thomas Heyward (dubbed “The Singing Signer”), founding father and signer of the Declaration of Independence. Other members of the Heyward family are called out in the song Spanish Moss, featuring the lyrics, “Brimmed hats on babes in waiting / Magnolia is housing / Heywards on cotton couches.” References to Savannah cotton magnate Jacob Guerard Heyward are contrasted with his middle-class Philadelphia existence, which Heyward sings about with love and empathy, “My city’s cold and naked / Who’ll wrap an arm around it?”
Heyward first garnered attention in the early 2000s as the lead guitarist for The Trouble With Sweeney, opening for My Morning Jacket and OK GO. The Trouble With Sweeney released three EPs and two LPs, including the widely praised I Know You Destroy and Fishtown Briefcase, and twice landed on Rollingstone.com’s Editor’s Top Picks of the Year before amicably disbanding in 2004.
Howkins is also a founding member of The Silver Ages, the critically acclaimed choral group featuring singers from a wide array of Philadelphia-based bands, including David Hartley (Nightlands, The War on Drugs, Buried Beds, BC Camplight), Charlie Hall (Jens Lekman, The War on Drugs, The Lindsey Buckingham Appreciation Society), Gianmarco Cilli (National Eye), Shai Halperin (The Capitol Years, Sweet Lights), Todd Starlin (Like Moving Insects), Brandon Beaver (Buried Beds, Nightlands), Brian Christinzio (BC Camplight), Rick Flom (National Eye, Mitch Fiction), Dave Wayne Daniels (The Capitol Years), Josh Newman (Mitch Fiction), Zach Miller (Dr. Dog) and Dan Matz (Windsor for the Derby, Birdwatcher). Heyward often credits the group’s vocal workouts, hazy afternoon rehearsals, and rich catalog of traditional material as a catalyst for his own unique style of song writing and his distinctive voice.
The Hale & Hearty features songs grounded in local surroundings but also effortlessly ventures into more fanciful territory. “Young Bowerbird / He made an offer / Stacked high for a lady that’s wandering by,” Heyward sings in Plume and Orange, a mournful but ultimately hopeful tale of the last two birds on Earth. “She’s through with talking / They’re the last two with a body still walking.” Even when faced with the apocalypse, the pair still find time to bicker about daily life.
The title song pulls together the album’s recurring theme of feeling a deep connection to a time and place but simultaneously remaining on the outside. “Go on, have another bump ’til it all feels right,” Heyward sings. “Look at your crowd / They are so hale and hearty.“