"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 (see Bon Iver, M. Ward, Damien Jurado). 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."
released June 27, 2012
All songs © 2012 by John Heyward Howkins
Produced, recorded, and mixed by Chet Delcampo at Hong Kong Stingray Studios
Additional recording by Adam D. Gold at oh real yum
Arranged by Heyward Howkins and Chet Delcampo
Mastered by Paul Gold
Package designed by Jason Fritzsche (JFritzdesign.com
Photo © Tyler Costill
Chet Delcampo (mellotron, keys, guitar, drums, bass)
Charlie Hall (bass, vox organ, vocal coach)
Severin Tucker (guitars)
Richard Stuverud (drums, percussion)
BC Camplight (piano)
Erica J. Penella (flute, vocals, vibes, glock, referee)
Ben Riesman (violin, viola)
Nitzan Haroz (tenor trombone)
Mike Brenner (lap steel)
Gretchen Lohse (Strings)
Shannon McArdle (vocals)
Birdie Busch (vocals)
Heyward (guitars, vocals, uke, banjo, harmonium, keys)
Special thanks to: My beautiful and patient wife, Nancy, and our two children (Jack and Hazel; they are so awesome they deserve their own liner notes), Mom (for building my vocabulary), Dad (for giving me my two best attributes: my voice and my sense of humor), Reyna Howkins (for being a supreme human), Ann Howkins (for being a brave rock), Elizabeth Devine (for telling me my beard made me look smart), Tono & Marge Howkins, Guerard Heyward Howkins, Judy Macgregor (mother-in-law like no other), Coach Chaz Hall and the Silver Ages (for teaching me to sing) , Will Baggot, Rick Flom, and Gianmarco Cilli (all National Eyes), Dan “Derby” Matz, David “Nightlands” Hartley, Severin “Fuckin’” Tucker, Josh Newman, Todd Starlin, Brandon “Buried Beds” Beaver, Joseph Sweeney (Archibald M. Splash), Steve Yutzey-Burkey, Billy “Summer Fiction” Ricchini , Beeg “bro hang” Buckley, Kristin and Aaron Pollock (and young Elliot), Alex “first generation” Carr (I love you, buddy), Jim Fogarty, Stephen Childers, Brandon “Beams” Smith, Shannon McArdle and Adam D. Gold, Joe Mangan (Aye … gueeeesss!), Jeff Deblasio, Bill Bole, Doug Batt, Flip, Mecky Elvita (manager and chef de cuisine), Chris Madl (Madl citizen and master motivator), Ben “Le Fits” Riesman, Stu Richards, Eliza Hardy, Birdie Busch, Mike Conklin (CT), Brian “BC Camplight” Christinzio, Erik “York Street Hustle” Schmidt, Jared “Ron Splash” Styles, The Costills, David Rech, Dryw Scully (spiritual adviser), Molly Auer, Mark Schreiber, Jason Fritzsche, Lily Golightly, Rita Tull, Eric Crawford, Meggie Morganelli, Thomas Heyward (The Singing Signer/grandfather x 5), Magnolia Hall (you should visit), Catholic School (12 years logged: more than enough), Carson City Silver Dollars (sold to make this record), Oaklyn Liquors , and the fight that is paramount!
Making this record has been both the silliest and most rewarding pursuit of my life. After two years, it was like earning a master’s degree in second guessing. I never even considered recording and releasing a record until I happened to get laid off from my geology job. At times writing and singing songs seems totally ridiculous to me, but I can’t stop … so it goes. Thanks for listening, and try not to take these songs or yourself too seriously.
In memory of C. Difilippo and N. Hazwezwe
Proudly produced in the best city in America—Philadelphia, PA