When friends ask me how I can continue to get excited about finding new bands and artists to enjoy – as if a finite set of albums should be enough – I will mention someone like Kenny Howes. That’s usually followed by a statement (“Who??”) and an action (insert disc in player…turn up loud). Kenny is an example of a supremely talented artist who would be much better known if we only had a realistic process to get music to the masses. We’ve gone from freeform FM to playlists to formatted channels to American Idol, and still it takes two ears and a shitload of persistence to weed through the chaff and find the gems.
When the powerpop movement started gelling in the 90s, there were a few magazines that centered on the movement and were critically informative to fans of the genre. Maybe not quite the lifeblood that Creem was to a disaffected suburban teenager back in the 70s, but certainly a hotbed of new names and sounds. It was there that I read about Kenny Howes and Rickenbackers and kick-ass covers and big fat power chords, and I was on that like flies on sherbert. The fact that Kenny was also a nice guy and funny as hell was just a bonus.
I don’t want to make it seem like he’s that obscure; certainly his series of albums over the years and appearances at Poptopia, IPO and other festivals has garnered him a good following, albeit on the scale of an independent pop musician. But fame has nothing to do with quality, and I’ll stand Kenny’s albums up against anyone’s from that era. Hooks galore and a boatload of charm, and a great intersection between the delicate melodies of a McCartney and the power of The Who. If that sounds like familiar territory, all I can say is there’s a reason a bonus track on one of his albums is titled “Gonna See Cheap Trick” – and finding a more effervescent song about heading to the big rock show is a tall order.
But enough about me.
Here’s a review of Back To You Today I wrote for Consumable Online twelve years ago…
Rickenbacker-wielding pop star Kenny Howes is back with his third record, yet another collection of ringing hooks and earnest vocals. The lo-fi production has its charms and drawbacks, sometimes framing songs in just the right minimalist setting but occasionally losing something in the fog bank. Overall, however, it’s another solid effort that sees Howes depart from his past formula and take a few chances.
The title track is certainly an example of his strong suit – bouncy chorus, solid hook and quick guitar break. This formula reaches its zenith on “Exactly Like You”, a sing-along track that could lift a band out of the garage and onto a jukebox – even if it winds up being their only hit. The simple, fuzzy guitar break is perfect and you can almost see the audience swaying and hand-clapping along to the “Cathy’s Clown” beat. And underneath it all, Kenny’s trying to land a new girl by shredding all those losers he’s hit on before – like THAT will work.
Sometimes the stretches don’t synch – “Something Really Great” sounds like Dylan doing the Monkees’ “Randy Scouse Git”, for example, and “Save You” is muddled angst. But “Never Left” sounds like the bonus track on the Pet Sounds box set, and the epic closer “Free Tattoo” sounds like Moon and Townsend sat in on the session.
Cohesive it’s not – I think Kenny had a lot of snippets of ideas when he hit the studio and went for broke. Although you might find yourself skipping a tune here and there, there is enough immediate gratification to bring you back again, which is when you’ll discover the chestnuts that appeal to you. Howes played everything but drums (kudos to Kelly Shane) and wrote all the songs, and is a talent deserving your ear time.
And he still is. Looks like we’ll be blessed with a DVD this year.
Kenny’s albums available at CD BABY