English singer/songwriter Ben Howard is a wizard on the acoustic guitar and a major up and comer in the folk/pop scene. With a voice that rivals Ray LaMontagne's and music that would certainly appeal to the Mumford & Sons set, Howard's debut album makes its way to the States after a 2011 release in the UK and it is one of my favorite releases of the year so far.
Howard's music is never at a loss for a lovely melody, even when the song is jumping as is the case with "The Wolves". Howard is equally comfortable with the ballads, from the soft "Everything" which is stripped down to almost nothing but acoustic guitar and his voice, to album closer "Promise" which leaves you in a trance with the hushed vocal work and his gentle guitar picking. So soothing.
"Every Kingdom" is at its best on the mid-tempo tracks. "The Fear" features one of the best lyrics here confronting the things which hold us back from living our lives to the fullest. The repeated phrase near the end of 'I will become what I deserve' is a powerful moment on a powerful track. "Keep Your Head Up" is another highlight, somewhat of an encouraging follow-up to "The Fear" with an uplifting chorus.
Howard's star has risen quickly in the UK and it certainly deserves to Stateside as well. This is warm, inviting folk influenced pop music and his guitar work is extraordinary. Highly recommended.
"Every Kingdom" was released in the U.S. April 3, 2012 on Universal/Republic Records