Tag Archives: American west

Camping In The Wilds At Pine Lake, Utah

I was told that finding somewhere to camp at busy Bryce Canyon may be a problem, so we set off down a very long gravel road into the wild, mountain lion habitat…

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And were rewarded by beautiful little Pine Lake campground…

Utah camp

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No mountain lions seen but a commotion nearby in the night seemed to indicate the presence of one nearby…things like that focus the mind somewhat, a beautiful place though

 

 

Utah, crazy road, beautiful country

Us Highway 316 turned into the “Moki Dugway”, a crazy gravel road switch backing straight up a mountain face which, when climbed, offered amazing views in total, wonderful silence….

Moki Dugway2
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Monument Valley

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Photo: Mike Howe
Photo: Mike Howe
Photo: Mike Howe

Sound of the Prairie?

Imagine if you will the wide open prairie with a few scattered farmsteads, maybe it would sound a bit like this? 🙂

More Stories We’ll Never Know The End Of…

The Music of a Landscape….The Prairie

On my 4th album “Heading West” I wanted to interpret some of the North American landscapes that I had seen and felt in the music that I composed.  But more than that I wanted some of the history of those landscapes to be heard in the music, and particularly in the instrumentation that I used.

This tune is about the prairies.  I obviously wanted to depict wide open spaces, but I also wanted the warmth and intimacy of the piano and double bass to convey some of the folk traditions of times past.  It’s not always a comfortable experience to interpret places that you are not completely familiar with, there’s a real danger of creating a cliche, as I have heard many times when the British culture or landscape is interpreted musically by others.

Anyway I hope that you like this one and can see where I’m coming from 🙂

I Get Reviews…

It’s obviously really gratifying when a music reviewer takes the time to critique your album over all the countless others that are released every month, and even more so when they say nice things 🙂

So a big thank you to Mike Debbage from mainlypiano.com for this great review of my new album Heading West…..

Heading West by Mike HoweHeading West by Mike Howe  2013/ Real Music  Total time: 52:46

Reviewed by Michael Debbage

With Howe’s impressive debut being released back in 2009, every single year he has come up with a new shining jewel to add to his recording treasure chest. However, 2012 represented the first year that Howe was unable to maintain this ridiculous recording pace.  Instead, he finally skipped a year with Heading West receiving a formal release in the year of 2013 as well as probably one of his finest recordings to date.

While Howe continues to lay his musical foundation in pastoral yet engaging pastures, Heading West represents a more exploratory recording and is best summed up by the liner notes which state that “through the heart and hands a British guitarist interprets his American travels”. Needless to say, Heading West lightly draws on the strains of folk, jazz and country allowing us as the listener to hear this very intelligent and introspective music become a tad more retrospective without losing his gorgeous original musical voice.

Though Heading West begins like any typical Howe album, by track 3 you will find yourself in somewhat new territory with Howe exploring the light jazzy winds of “Badlands” that is driven by what sounds like a stand up bass and light percussive work that intermingles seamlessly with Howe’s guitar and piano work. Speaking of percussion work, check out the stark exotic “Navajo Winds” that features Howe on bongos who decides to pick and pluck at his guitar strings versus strumming.  Meanwhile, the light orchestration and gentle spacious piano work on “The Last Buffalo” have similar exotic results but this time leaving a sense of openness. It brings to mind the rolling open plains that are now empty and bare with only ghosts of the once great roaming buffaloes. The same exotica can be found on the mystical “Desert Solitaire” that includes Howe’s delectable but restrained guitar work. On the completely different end of the musical spectrum, perhaps the more driven melodic sensibilities of “Wyoming” may also your suit your fancy.

Otherwise, Heading West is filled with Howe’s effortless ability to make outstanding exquisite music, reflecting his musical journal of his stateside journeys. It also represents one of his best recordings to date and undoubtedly one of 2013’s finer musical moments in its genre. So travel west into a sunset with Mike Howe as his music is your perfect engaging travel companion.

“Hope” – the great photographs of Dorothea Lange

My fourth album “Heading West” is an interpretation of the landscape and peoples of the American west through the senses of a travelling Brit.  I wanted to express the emotions of my experiences and to convey the character of the places that I visited, although some of the music I composed turned out to be more abstract than that.

One example of this is my song “Hope”.  I’ve had some really lovely comments about this song which is always nice because you never know whether or not what you are doing is perhaps a cliche – the listener always decides this of course.  “Hope” is not easy to describe, which is why I gave the song that title after I had composed and recorded it – if one word can describe an abstract thing like a piece of music, then “Hope” was it in this instance.

When it came to putting together a video for this song, I started trawling aimlessly on the internet looking for inspiration.  It wasn’t long before the amazing photographs of Dorothea Lange jumped out at me as the perfect representation of what the song is about.

Dorothea Lange (1895 – 1965) was an amazing American documentary photographer and photojournalist, best known for her depiction of the Great Depression era which affected the world in the decade immediately preceding World War II.  Lange’s photographs humanized the consequences of the Great Depression in the American west and documented the migration of so many people intent on finding work and a place for themselves and their families.

In 1941 Lange was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship for her excellence in photography.

The picture on the video thumbnail is entitled Migrant Mother, and the woman is Florence Owens Thompson.  Look her up on wikipedia, the story of how the picture came to be taken and of her life is fascinating.  I hope you like the video and the music.

How a road trip, John Steinbeck and Charley, Hank Jones and another Charlie, Pat Metheny and a book called Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee inspired my new album Heading West, by Mike Howe

Quite a long time ago I fulfilled a long held dream and traveled all across the USA in an old Buick Skylark with a friend of mine.  We traveled 11,000 miles and visited more states, National Parks, cities, state parks and rest areas than you can shake a stick at (a favourite saying from the trip that, being from England, we’d never heard before and it made us giggle).

For me it was an unforgettable experience, as I traveled to places with names that had held a deep fascination for me since I was a young boy, Oregon, Wyoming, Montana, Arizona, California, Nebraska (the list goes on, sorry not mention them all, no offence intended to residents of Connecticut and elsewhere).

My fascination started watching western films as a kid.  I couldn’t believe the incredible wide open spaces and big skies, the beautiful forests and deserts and mountain ranges, with their amazing wildlife – bears for goodness sake!  We get excited if we see a squirrel (and most of them are from N. America and not native to the UK at all, but that’s another story).

And as I grew older I started reading more and more about this wondrous land.  I read the Lewis and Clark journals.  What an incredible story of an expedition sent out by President Thomas Jefferson to see what lay beyond the great Mississippi River, because back then few people knew, it was literally the wild west.  And what did they find?  They found an incredibly rich land roamed by enormous herds of buffalo, native people in numerous tribes, wolves, bears, forests and prairie, incredible.  Imagine climbing up a ridge and finding yourself looking down upon the geysers and steaming hot springs of Yellowstone, a primordial landscape?  In fact the whole landscape was on a par, if not better than, the great plains of Africa for all round natural splendour, and it was still largely intact only 150 years ago.

Then I read Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown.  What a heart breaking but deeply fascinating account of the history of Native Americans in the American West in the late nineteenth century.  He describes the people’s displacement through forced relocations and years of warfare waged by the United States Federal Government.  Much later I read two books by Kent Nerburn, Neither Wolf Nor Dog and The Wolf at Twilight which explored the story of the American Indians in a much more intimate and real, and ultimately far more complex way.  Both books beautifully written and compelling, I’d recommend them to anyone.

So you see I’ve got quite an interest in the American landscape.  If you add in the influence of the great North American nature writers such as Rick Bass, Doug Peacock, Edward Abbey, David Rains Wallace and of course the greats, Aldo Leopold, Thoreau and John Muir (ok he was Scottish), then that interest has developed into a passion.

Of course I listened to a lot of music, I’ve been doing that since I was 3.  Of all the many musicians that were able to speak to me about the American lands through their music (and not their words), Pat Metheny stood out for me.  In particular his album with Charlie Haden, Beyond the Missouri Sky was a sublime interpretation of an open, prairie like landscape of big skies, huge fields of wheat and corn, and small farms.  That album showed me that you can paint quite specific pictures with simple music, you don’t need an orchestra, as so many of the great film soundtracks have got.

Of course Pat Metheny is a genius and can make his guitar say pretty much anything he wants it to.  And Charlie Haden is a master of the understated, delivering warm, folky bass lines focusing on purity of tone and texture.  His Oklahoma roots can be heard in the playing of a double bass, now that is a mark of great musicianship.

Later when I heard the album that Charlie Haden made with Hank Jones the penny dropped.  They released an album called Steal Away: Spirituals, Hymns and Folk Songs which is a soft, gentle masterpiece and the title tells you all you need to know about the style of the music.  Here we had a simple blend of what I’d call ‘woody, blocky’ piano reminiscent of old churches and school rooms, and bass that sounded beautiful to me.

Finally I read John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley and when I finished I thought how good it would be to write a similar account of my travels, before realising that I ain’t no author.  And then it hit me, why not write songs about it instead?

So I started to work with piano, double bass, guitar and drums, and became totally immersed in the whole project as it began to unfold.  The more I worked, the more the songs and melodies would come to me.  It was as if they had been stored up just waiting to be released, which in a sense I suppose they had.

What resulted is something that I am very proud of because it was such a challenge to compose, arrange and perform the music so that, at times, it sounded like a four piece folk/jazz band.  It wasn’t easy to play all of those instruments to the standard that I required so that, hopefully, the listener would be able to hear the emotion and the depth of each composition, and most importantly, feel the wide open space and atmosphere of the landscapes.

I guess it’s for others ultimately to decide how successful you have been as a writer and performer of the music, but all you can ever do is be honest with yourself and ask, did I do that with all my heart and to the best of my ability at that time?  My answer is yes, and that’s all that really matters.

Mike Howe

Website: https://mikehowe.com/
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/mikehowemusic
Twitter: https://twitter.com/mikehowemusic
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