Click to hear “Hotel California” Click to hear “Chicken Lips”Click to hear “We Let It Be” If it’s possible to paint color on sound, then listening to James Howard fill a space with music is such an experience. His guitar evokes an other-worldly quality, ethereal and expansive yet grounded and earthy, like dancing in a forest. It makes sense that Howard is known as much for his vocal bluesy originals as the layered instrumentals he plays. As his fingers work the strings on those hard-driving or long dreamy sequences, his body in constant motion, sometimes companion sounds spring forth to include howls, moans and whispers. The combination is dramatic, transporting the music to another level.
He’s admired in Memphis, where his band represented the Washington Blues Society at the 2016 International Blues Competition, and he enjoys a sizable fan base in the Pacific Northwest, as evidenced by donations to his latest self-funded project, an instrumental CD of popular songs. His guitar virtuosity and emotional presentation have propelled him from finalist in Guitar Player Magazine’s Hendrix Contest to Best Blues Guitarist in the 2011 Yamaha Global Guitar Competition.
The James Howard Band rhythm section is fueled by bass virtuoso Farko Dosumov, the creative drumming of John Stout and ace keyboardist Michael Baxter. Sparks ignite when this Seattle A-Team hits the stage with a blues rock sound from outer space.
Howard’s maverick style is indefinable, drawn from many genres and influences. He’s even backed up Loretta Lynn’s granddaughter, and performed a Flamenco duet in front of a 25-piece orchestra at Benaroya Hall. He seems comfortable in almost any musical setting, not changing, chameleon-like, but immersing himself and adding his essence revealing different layers of his talent.
The man, too, defies labels, except to say he is a contributor, a curator of music. He sees his job as a musician to contribute to community, to act as a channel for the music, to learn and discover as much as create and transform. He is always becoming; always emerging.
James Howard’s new CD release, For the Love of Song, is a collection of recognizable tunes played as electric guitar instrumentals. Howard spontaneously composes brilliant content on top of familiar chord progressions and melodies with the end result being nothing less than extraordinary. He is thoughtful in his description of the process, acknowledging that he is building on the works of others, adding his own vision. He says his contribution is to lift spirit in it, to transform and transport through experience. In this, Howard’s 6th CD release, he seems to be getting better and better. The result propels these familiar melodies and passionate improvisations into a satisfying alchemy of sonic resonace that needs to be experienced and appreciated by as big of an audience as possible.