With a voice that honors a heritage of Tennessee twang, singer/songwriter Heidi Howe charms her way through a dozen melodious originals spiked with country angst and homey wisdom on her latest album, Be Good. Hers is a voice made for country music, and she knows how to make the most of it. At their best, which seem to be more often than not on this album, her lyrics are smart and sassy and her music is infectious. Be Good, to be released in February 2014, is her sixth solo album, and her first since 2007’s I Love Britney Spears.
“I would rather play to 10 people who will listen than to 200 people who consider me a jukebox,” a comment she made after the release of her second album in 2001, is a good indication of the importance she attaches to connecting with her audience. Howe’s music is intimate; it needs to be heard in a honky-tonk, a long neck bottle within easy reach. But most of all, it needs an audience willing to listen—the fit though few, as the poet said.
Whether Howe is indulging in some traditional country despair over lost love, as in the plaintive chorus of “Souvenir” – “This broken heart is my souvenir/Reminding me love don’t live here” – or going through lists of habit-kicking celebrities (like Robert Downey Jr.), she has a way with a lyric that strips away maudlin sentimentality in favor of plain speaking. She does so with some post-modern irony too, intended or not, as an intervention technique in “If Ryan Adams Can.” Even a song like “The Ramones and George Jones,” which in its evocation of the past could easily turn soppy, she instead finds in the music “a religion of her own.”
“Stand” has a smart allusive lyric set in a beautiful melody, and “Alright” has a refrain that seems to go on and on to emphasize the inevitability of love working out where there is a real commitment.
A video of the album’s opening song, “Kind of Crazy,” is available on YouTube. It makes for a nice introduction to the singer and her work. If you like this, and you should, you will like the rest of the album.