Like her stage persona, Danielle Howle’s music is authentic and quirky at the same time. Stylistically, she travels to and fro. But with a cock-eyed worldview and a voice that drips with irony, she uses the American songwriter’s standard bag of tools and tricks to blaze, and when necessary cut, her own path.
Her new CD opens with the irresistible “Roses from Leroy’s,” which has an ’80s pop-rock vibe. But then suddenly she’s evoking Patsy Cline — and pretty darned well at that — with “I’ll Be Blue.” “Fields of Cotton” has a traditional folk flavor, while “Oh Swear” swings with horns. Produced by Hootie and the Blowfish’s Mark Bryan, the CD also features a wonderful duet with Hootie singer Darius Rucker on the Etta James/Harvey Fuqua classic “If I Can’t Have You” (admittedly, this is a song that would have been tough to screw up).
Howle is a kick-ass live performer, but her unapologetically inexpert vocals may take a little getting used to on record. Yet listen to the ballad “This Kind of Light” and you’ll hear something of the heartwrenching sugar of Bonnie Raitt and a bit of the raw boniness of PJ Harvey combining into a unique and powerful voice — and I don’t mean just the literal voice, but also the figurative “voice” of the storyteller or fiction writer. It’s the storytelling, even more than the delivery, that makes these songs work as well as they do.
“Walking Through the Black,” in spite of not having a super-strong hook, has a soulful force and builds to a big climax, while the torchy “Love is a Fall” is a fine example of Howle’s skill with melody. “Who Knows” shows off the humorous side that’s so evident at her live shows. In fact every song here has a feel that’s quite different from all the others. The CD is charming and never boring. Fans will be pleased, and new fans should be made.