For all I slag off PR people all the time (most of them are fucking woeful, to be fair, but the good ones are a fucking joy to deal with), there are some PR companies who so consistently send me good things I actively look forward to their emails. One such is Banter media.
They aren’t chatty or anything, and I don’t have a friendly relationship with anyone there in particular, but their emails are to the point, the link to listen to music is immediate and obvious, and their taste matches mine to the extent that far from resenting the barrage of stuff, I genuinely look forward to hearing what they’ll send me next. One such is Barna Howard.
I had pals round the house recently and when they heard this the first reference point they made was the brilliant Elvis Perkins. I would say it’s a little more bare and a little less rounded than that. The people I am reminded of are the brilliant and little-known Barton Carroll and, somewhat more incongruously, the equally fantastic and perhaps even more unknown Adam Balbo.
If I were to summarise what Barton Carroll, Adam Balbo and Barna Howard all have in common I think it would be this: I could more or less listen to them sing the fucking phonebook and I would still be entranced. This seems paradoxical, because the lyrics of all three artists are so crucial to the appeal of all three artists. Balbo may be more sarcastic and Carroll more heartbreaking, but similarly to Howard they have something about their delivery, something about the warmth and charisma of their voices and something about their turn of phrase which means that even the most basic of music can be endlessly captivating.
Because let’s face it, there’s nothing too clever going on here; it’s a bloke with a guitar, and he sings some songs. As a publicist looking for a story to sell to the press you are told to look for a story and, as with many bands, there really isn’t one here. This is simply an album of someone singing some songs, accompanied by no more than acoustic guitar, and the lack of anything more to say about it than that makes it a challenging tale to spin. Especially as so many people do this kind of thing, and so many of them do it without the slightest shred of inspiration.
I say this only because it’s incredibly difficult for me to even begin to guess what makes this such a special album. In amongst all the bazillions of serious people plucking acoustic guitars, this record is a wonderful, magnetic piece of work. From my point of view at least this is a cut above so many similar albums, and assembles incredibly simple components, using a very well-established plan, to produce something which still manages to stand out.
The songs are personal and not dressed up in obliquity, which I suppose probably helps me engage with them, but in some ways I think half of the reason I find this so compelling is the slow, confident pace and the vocal delivery, which doesn’t cry for attention and simply gets on with its singing. And if by doing so it means you fail to pay attention, then more fool you.
Buy now on digital or vinyl from Bandcamp.