Howard Gladstone’s ‘Promise’ is a voyage through your mind

-By Gary 17,

With the official release tomorrow, October 9, of Howard Gladstone’s new album, The Promise, I figured it was a good time to check out the video of one of the songs, “Paradise, Passing Through,” that’s available free on YouTube.

I was rewarded by a lovely yet poignant voyage to another world, where a song with lyrics sweet and pointed in turn describes how lush flora and lusty human fauna were at one time free to be what they are, but which situation has been transformed over time by modern life even as has the sad reminiscer.

The song, like most of the others on the album, arose from a visit Gladstone made to Polynesia, where contrasts of natural and manufactured habits are apparently stark.

Gladstone  says that “like countless others, I struggled with how to get through the dark days of the 2020 coronavirus lockdown.   In the early days of isolation, I wrote some lines that became the song “Someday”…” and although “I had no intention initially of recording an album, over a period of two months it happened.”

This is an album for people who are prepared to take the time to let themselves be absorbed in language conveying messages with artful lyrics and buoyed up by sensitive yet powerful music that comes largely courtesy of guitarist Kevin Laliberte accompanying the songwriter/poet on most of the tracks, along with other talents filling out the atmosphere to help highlight the vocals.

Howard Gladstone -PR pic

Howard is not a natural singer —more of a talker/lecturer— but over the years and several albums he’s come to understand his voice and learned how to bend and stretch it to create interesting, poignantly genuine and ultimately captivating vocals.

Those vocals are delivering observations, messages and light polemic in a way that is designed to appeal to literate people.  When spinning this disc (or streaming it) you need to block out other distractions and let it seep into your consciousness, where Gladstone’s mildly urgent and unique vocals and the accompanying music will carry you along to a place from which you’ll have a higher understanding of many things.

If I have one criticism it’s perhaps that he has a tendency to produce songs that go on just a little too long.  Most are over four minutes and contain repetitions that in many cases are unnecessary since he’s already convincingly made his point.  But that’s a trifle of a complaint that wiffles away once you’re caught up in the spells he creates.

The lead off track, “Woodstock Fifty,” is a tender and captivating nostalgic voyage and sets the stage for the interesting use of minor keys that resonates throughout the entire disc. Lyrically it’s wistful and somewhat painful as the singer realizes you can’t recapture what was but only go forward with what’s left in memory.

On the final number, “Crossroads,” the polemic that is both implicit and gently explicit throughout the disc becomes more dominant and forceful in a song that suggests we are as a species at a crucial existential junction, facing “extinction or rebirth.”

In between Gladstone uses the interplay between minor and major keys to create auras of mystery and drama, such as on “Birds of Spain,” where a faux-Spanish atmosphere helps him convey ironic or even sarcastic lyrics that deliver his message about the consequences of war after the fighting stops.

On “Paradise, Passing Through” lush imagery and music transports us to a lovely place but then, almost in David Attenborough fashion, resolves in a painful realization that things there have changed and what was once so lovely has been tarnished.

On “The Promise,” a kind of lullaby, he makes minor keys warm and embracing, while on his cover of  “There Is Only Love” by Jon Brooks, using some symphonic musical accompaniment highlighting viola player Chairman Louis, he creates a kind of hymn to deliver a philosophical message about life, death and the earth all bound together by love.

The accompanying musicians are a big part of helping to make this deeply thoughtful album more accessible.  Kevin Laliberte (guitar), Russ Boswell (bass), Marito Marques (drums) accompany Gladstone on “Paradise, Passing Through” as well as six of the album’s nine songs. Laura Fernandez and/or Julie Gladstone add background vocals on six of the tracks, and Bob Cohen plays guitar/bass on three songs.

It’s worth noting too that this disc, like everything he and the cohort of artists he has assembled through his Sonic Peach record company, was created using super high-res format that delivers a far richer experience than mp3s, wav files and other audio configurations.  The details can be found on the company’s website.

The album will be available tomorrow as a cd and for streaming or downloads, including the high-res version, on all major streaming platforms, Gladstone says adding that he suggests his Bandcamp page is the best portal.

Two of the tracks can also now be streamed free from the album tab on the Music page of his website.

Copyright 2020 by Gary Webb-Proctor &
Gary 17@  * [email protected]